Government showing 'complete contempt for officers' as pension reforms ruled unlawful

Senior police leaders have accused the Government of “underhand and unfair” actions and of showing “complete contempt for officers” after a High Court Judge declared its actions on police pension reforms as unlawful.

Dec 15, 2021
By Tony Thompson

Today (December 15) the findings of a Judicial Review launched by the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA) have been published, ruling that the consultation on public services pensions schemes carried out this year was unlawful and that the Government had breached its Public Sector Equality Duty.

As part of the Government’s proposed pensions changes, thousands of police officers at all ranks will be forcibly moved from the pensions they were promised when they signed up to become police officers, into the 2015 ‘CARE Scheme’ on April 1, 2022, despite promises made that certain officers close to retirement would have the choice to remain in their original schemes.

Police officers pay substantial amounts of money every month (between 11 per cent and 15.05 per cent contributions) into their pension fund to ensure a good pension is received in retirement.

The change will see officers lose thousands in their pensions income and leave many younger officers in a ‘pensions trap’ whereby they are required to work for as much as five years longer than they have planned and were promised, while also losing tens of thousands of pounds in pensions payments.

Many officers are also being told they cannot be given their retirement settlement figures until October 2023, because the details of the complex transitions are not yet known, and the Government is yet to change the necessary regulations.

In seeking a Judicial Review, the PSA claimed that the consultation which led to this decision was unlawful and unfair as evidence showed that the decision to move all police officers into the new scheme was made before any consideration was given to the 3,000-plus consultation responses submitted to government.

Those submitting evidence to the Government included the PSA, the Police Federation, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association.

The High Court judge agreed this to be the case, also highlighting the “highly unsatisfactory” manner in which the Government supplied documents and evidence to the court, citing its “history of non-compliance and of late disclosure”.

In a personal foreword in the Government’s consultation response, Minister Steven Barclay, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said “we have listened to you” and that responses had been “indispensable in refining our proposals”. The judge found that contrary to be the case, to the extent that the consultation was unlawful because the minister had not considered the consultation responses before making his decision.

The judge said: “There was a clear breach of the requirement to give conscientious consideration to the consultation responses… This amounted to clear unfairness and the consultation was so unfair as to be unlawful because the material decision was made in advance of [….] considering the consultation responses.”

The PSA has also challenged the disproportionate impact the changes make to female officers, who are statistically more likely to have worked part-time or taken career breaks. This information was clearly provided as part of the association’s consultation response. The judge found a clear breach of the public sector equality duty as these consultation responses were not taken into account when decisions were made.

The impact these changes are having on the wellbeing and mental health of officers has been shared with the association and is now being used to demonstrate the personal effect of government actions:

A female detective superintendent with 29 years’ police service said: “I can honestly say that the issues surrounding the police pension, the lack of thought and clarity, the inequalities of a remedy supposedly introduced to stop inequality combined with the complete disregard that the Government has for policing is having a catastrophic effect on my morale and that of my staff. It comes up time and again in our staff surveys.

“We all work exceptionally hard dealing with things I would hope you never ever have to witness or remember. I joined to serve the vulnerable but that does not stop me wanting some support and proper remuneration for the work myself and my teams do. I feel that we are under attack from all sides including the Government who do not listen to the pay review bodies and then attack our pension, they clearly do not value the service we provide, or we would be treated better and paid a wage and pension that represent the job we do.

“Police have no right to strike as others do, we could not take the action that the doctors did to force single remedies for them, we cannot appeal to the nation as nurses can, we are soft targets as we cannot answer back despite continuing to provide a 24/7 service. This has had a widespread effect on morale which has been going on some time now. Sadly, the mishandling of this whole pension debacle led to a number of good officers and friends leaving the police early, only to be told now that they could have stayed on the 87 Scheme until March 22. Such skills and talents wasted does nothing to help morale and also fails to show the Government in a good light at all.”

Superintendent Emma Richards of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), who has responsibility for the Territorial Support Group and the Dog Support Unit across London, consisting of approximately 800 officers, is a Gold, Silver and Bronze public order commander and counter terrorist security coordinator, and was the first ever part-time officer in the MPS to serve on the Territorial Support Group.

She was promoted to inspector while part-time and went on to lead the unit as superintendent while also being a single parent. She says: “I have served for 33 years, I joined when female officers served for an average of 6 years. I have trail-blazed for female officers and staff during this time, both for flexible working conditions, specialist roles and promotion processes. This is a career I am incredibly proud of, however, the erosion of my pension, purely based on my decision to care for my children alongside my work, does make me question the recognition and support by the government for my commitment and dedication.”

Detective Superintendent David Henderson from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit said: “I know for a fact that the pension changes and ongoing legal disputes/disparity of resolutions has caused more unrest and damage to officers’ mental wellbeing than anything else I have come across in 20 years in the service. There is so much ongoing discussion, worry, ill-feeling, and unrest like never before known. For the first time in my service, colleagues, peers and friends of a similar length of service to me, are resigning.”

Chief Superintendent Kerry Smith of Leicestershire Police, a lead for specialist operations and corporate services, a Gold public order commander, strategic firearms commander and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence) commander with more than 28 years’ service said: “I will have completed 30 years’ service in August 2023. The pensions trap leaves me facing a pensions reduction of circa 60 per cent. This cannot be right or just and surely cannot be what was intended.

“How can it be correct that a colleague who I joined with on the very same day, with exactly the same service as me but who happens to be 55 years old when they retire, will be treated differently and more favourably than me?

“This continued uncertainty is significantly impacting on not just my morale but the morale across all ranks, leaving officers feeling undervalued and unheard. All I would ask is to be treated fairly, equally and with respect, this is what the public rightly expect of us and it is the least we deserve from our government.”

Detective Superintenden Andrew O’Connor of Merseyside Police, who has responsibility for force intelligence in one of the busiest metropolitan forces, said: “The stress and anxiety this is causing in my personal life is huge. I need my wife to be able to finish work to care for her terminally ill mother, but I cannot let her know when this will be until this utter mess is sorted… because of this position I (like many other of my staff) are in complete and utter limbo. This is people’s lives/livelihoods at stake.”

PSA national secretary Dan Murphy commented: “Right from the start of the process to remedy the discrimination caused by pensions changes, we have submitted factual, evidence-based data to the government to explain the unfair and discriminatory impact that these changes will have, not only on our members but on officers of every rank across the service.

“We have repeatedly hit a ‘brick wall’, with very little explanation or meaningful engagement from the Government, leaving a judicial review of the Government’s behaviour as our only option.

“The way the process has been carried out has been underhand and unfair from the outset, with the Government even denying making promises to police officers, which only after legal challenge, they then clearly confirm were made.

“Efforts to consult with the very people these changes affect across the whole public sector were seemingly nothing more than a ‘sham’. This is deceitful and shows complete contempt for officers.

“Treating the police workforce in this way shows nothing but disrespect and is the latest in this kind of behaviour shown by government towards our Service. From the total disregard to Police Remuneration Review Body (PRRB) evidence, to the lack of any meaningful pay increase, how on earth can a police officer expect to feel valued? Just as concerning is the message this gives to recruits of the future. We have a real fear that the worsening remuneration packages offered to police will impact on the Government’s ability to recruit and retain the 20,000 new officers it seeks.

“I hope that the many testimonies we have gathered from affected officers show the significant impact this is having on their wellbeing and personal lives. The right and decent action for government after their Machiavellian actions and lack of respect shown to our workforce, is to properly consult, and where necessary amend the Bill that is being forced through parliament and will legalise the changes officers are having forced upon them, and to make proactive efforts to reset the relationship which is now so strained.”

This latest court ruling comes just months after the PSA withdrew from the PRRB, which was set up to provide independent advice to government on police pay. The PSA said the Government was repeatedly disregarding this independent process by making decision on pay in advance of any evidence it received.

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