The government has conceded defeat over its attempt to alter police pensions in 2015, acknowledging that moving police officers to new police pension schemes, based on their age, is discriminatory.
The cue for the government’s concession was the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that denied the government leave to appeal the court’s decision that younger firefighters and judges should not be transferred to financially less advantageous schemes than their older colleagues.
Law firm Leigh Day, which brought the legal challenge in 2016, and represents over 13,500 police officers who were born after 1 April 1967 and were moved onto pension schemes with reduced benefits, said compensation would now be assessed by an employment tribunal.
Leigh Day’s main focus was now to rectify the discriminatory impact of these pension scheme changes on its clients, said Kiran Daurka a partner in the employment team at Leigh Day, representing the police officers. She added: “There are a number of options for compensation, that could be explored by the employment tribunal.
“We would hope that this would be full redress, to put our clients back into the position they would have been in financially, had they not been subjected to discrimination. We will also be seeking compensation for injury to feelings.”
Daurka said that, based on government statements, compensation for past discrimination may only be applied to those with a legal claim in order to minimise government spending on public sector pensions.
The legal battle over police pensions was brought following the imposition of the Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) Police Pension Scheme, which came into force on 1 April 2015.
This required officers born after 1 April 1967 to leave the two existing schemes, which for many officers provides greater benefits such as a lower contribution rates, lower retirement age and a higher final pension value, than the CARE scheme.
Those Police Officers born before 1 April 1967 and appointed before 1 April 2012 will stay in the two existing schemes, known as the 1987 and 2006 police pension schemes.
The June ruling by the Supreme Court also applies to new pension arrangements put in place for teachers and doctors, which Leigh Day says it will now continue to fight in the same way it has for judges and police officers.
Duarka said that court action would continue despite the establishment of precedent by the Supreme Court. “Today’s decision does not give any guarantee for other public sector workers, or to anyone who has not brought a claim, who have seen similar changes to their pension schemes. We will continue to fight these changes through the courts to show that changes to public sector pension schemes for teachers and for NHS staff have also been discriminatory.”
The Police Federation, responding to the Supreme Court decision in June stated it was “scandalous that the government forced the changes they made to pensions back in 2012, but legally they had the power to do so. There are no negotiation rights for police officers on pensions.
“Our stance has always been that police officers should have stayed in the pension schemes they signed up to, or better, and that remains our stance in any future discussions with Government over police officer pensions.”
It added: “Once the government proposes a remedy – which is likely to be a protracted process and potentially affect all public sector pensions – if it becomes necessary for us to mount a legal challenge on behalf of all police officers in England and Wales then we stand ready to do so. It may be that no one has to submit claims.”
Investment specialist AJ Bell predicted that the cost to the Treasury and taxpayers of the government’s failure to alter public sector pension schemes would be in the region of £4 billion.