Doctors to sue UK government over pension changes

Medics are to sue the UK government over discriminatory changes made to their pension scheme that it is claimed will leave them worse off in retirement.

The changes, which were made in 2015, saw younger doctors transferred on to a less generous pension scheme that will result in “huge financial losses” when they retire, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).

Doctors who were within 10 years of their national pension age on 1 April 2012 were protected from the changes.

This follows warnings to NHS workers last month not to ditch lucrative pensions.

Solicitors representing the BMA have written to health secretary Matt Hancock advising him of their intention to take legal action. Similar letters have also been sent to the Scottish and Northern Irish governments.

The decision follows a ruling in the Court of Appeal last year, which stated that the government had discriminated against firefighters and judges on grounds of race, age and equal pay when it introduced changes to their pension schemes.

Commenting on the proceedings, interim treasurer for the BMA, Dr Trevor Pickersgill, says: “In 2015, the NHS closed two sections of the NHS Pension Scheme, moving many NHS staff on to a newer 2015 scheme with less valuable retirement benefits. 

However, it also allowed some older doctors to stay on the previous schemes until they either retired or they moved to the new scheme at the end of a fixed transition period. The BMA alleges that the failure to allow younger doctors to benefit from these transitions constitutes unlawful age discrimination.   

“Last December, the Court of Appeal said that the government discriminated against judges and firefighters on the grounds of age, race and equal pay in relation to changes to their pension.

In line with the changes to the NHS Pension Scheme, firefighters similarly could stay in the existing and better pension scheme, and younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing significant financial losses.”

Although the government is planning to appeal the Court of Appeal decision, the BMA has said that should it fail, the government must agree that the 2015 NHS Pension Scheme also discriminates against younger members.

Dr Pickersgill adds: “Many doctors had been working towards and planning for their retirement based on membership of the former Sections of the NHS Pension Scheme, only for those plans to be completely disregarded once the government’s discriminatory changes were brought in.”

A spokesperson for the government says: “In 2015, reforms were introduced to ensure that public service pensions are affordable and sustainable in the long term. In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that the ‘transitional protection’ offered to some members as part of the reforms amounts to unlawful discrimination.  

The government is seeking permission to appeal this decision and continues to believe that the reforms were necessary, appropriate and lawful.  If the appeal is unsuccessful, the court will require steps to be taken to compensate employees who were transferred to the new schemes. However, this decision does not alter the government’s longstanding objective to ensure public service pensions are fair to public service workers and fair to other taxpayers.” 

This article was originally written by our sister publication Moneywise.

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