PFEW ‘discriminated’ against officers involved in police pension claims, tribunal finds

A tribunal has ruled that the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) “discriminated against and victimised” officers who had previously made claims against the Government after being moved onto pension schemes with reduced benefits.

Jun 8, 2023
By Paul Jacques

The original claims against the Government were for age discrimination regarding the statutory transitional arrangements, which led to older police officers remaining in the more beneficial pension schemes while younger officers were moved to a new pension and suffered a detriment.

In those claims, the Government acknowledged there had been discrimination against younger police officers on the basis of age.

Law firm Leigh Day said thousands of police officers then claimed that the PFEW discriminated against and/or victimised them by:

  • Pursuing, promoting and protecting a policy which favoured the Government’s discriminatory transitional arrangements, and therefore favoured the protection of older police officers;
  • Continually refusing to support and/or fund the original police pensions claims (PPC) despite the active involvement of approximately 15,000 police officers bringing claims; and
  • Taking active steps to deter, obstruct and/or penalise the claimants from pursuing the original police pensions claims, in particular through divisive and adverse communications about the claim.

After reviewing the PFEW’s decisions and communications regarding the police pensions claims, the East London Employment Tribunal found on Wednesday (June 7) that:

  • The PFEW understood from the outset that that there was a ‘possibility’ of age discrimination;
  • Its messaging was ‘unfailingly supportive’ of the transitional provisions;
  • It did not provide its members with a ‘rounded understanding’ of the ‘likely outcomes’, instead it provided a ‘skewed and misleading narrative’, emphasising unlikely outcomes, with the overriding objective of protecting the transitional provisions;
  • General Secretary Ian Rennie had no training in equalities law, for the majority of the time, there was no one who was responsible for equalities issues at its head offices, and there was no evidence that the equalities sub-committee was tasked with examining issues relating to pensions or the PPC;
  • There was no consultation of the membership at large, and little evidence that the bodies charged with deciding/reviewing policy were consulted in a meaningful way; and
  • Consideration was not given as to whether there was any less discriminatory way of redesigning the scheme so as to be fairer to younger officers.

In the written judgment, Employment Judge Massarella said: “In our view the potential for age discrimination was so obvious that it cried out for a cogent explanation of what the justification for it might be.

“At no point before May 2020 did the respondent, the overwhelming majority of whose leadership appears to have belonged to the group protected by the transitional provisions, raise any objection in principle to the transitional provisions.

“On the contrary, it actively championed them for the best part of eight years.”

The PFEW said the judgement “makes for very difficult reading”.

In a statement it said: “We have received the Employment Tribunal’s judgment of the police pension discrimination claim, brought against PFEW and led by Leigh Day Solicitors.

“The tribunal found in favour of PFEW in relation to indirect age discrimination, and ruled in favour of the claimants on a number of claims of direct age discrimination and victimisation.

“The judgement makes for very difficult reading for the organisation.

“However, we would like to assure the membership that PFEW’s National Board and National Council take the Employment Tribunal’s comments and judgment very seriously. We will reflect on it, affording it the necessary and thorough review that it deserves.

“Earlier today, the National Board and National Council met to begin that process.

“We will comment on and respond to the judgment fully in due course.”

Leigh Day is acting on behalf of approximately 10,000 clients to obtain compensation for injury to feelings and the reimbursement of legal fees paid by officers involved in the police pensions claims.

“The claims against the PFEW will now return to the tribunal for compensation to be assessed, and to ensure that the decision is applied to all claimants, not just the eight witness who gave evidence at the hearing,” said Leigh Day.

Similar claims against the Scottish Police Federation have been put on hold while a judgment was made in relation to the PFEW case.

Lee Broadbent, a constable for Greater Manchester Police and Leigh Day client, said: “Collectively thousands of us stood together when called upon to challenge what was clear discrimination, and where other colleagues charged with protecting our legal interests should feel a deep sense of shame.

“Reading the articulate way in which Employment Judge Massarella dismantles PFEW’s ‘justifications’ and succinctly lays out the utter contempt the organisation held against its members, described as the ‘enemy from within’ has floored me.

“It is of course what many of us felt at the time, and no doubt many, including myself, are still being made to feel, but this judgment gives a sense of vindication.”

Mandy Bhattal, a senior associate at Leigh Day, said: “This is an overwhelming win for our clients and a damning assessment of the actions of the PFEW.

“The judgment is highly critical of the conduct of the PFEW, spanning a period of over a decade, from when the transitional arrangements were first mooted.

“The PFEW has a responsibility to challenge the Government but instead, not only did it ignore its responsibility to protect and represent members, it actively campaigned against police pensions claims to the detriment of many young police officers.”

The Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) Police Pension Scheme came into force in April 2015. The 2015 changes meant that older members could stay in the existing, favourable pension scheme, while those born after April 1, 1967, had to transfer to a new, financially inferior scheme.

In December 2015, a legal claim was launched against the Home Office and police chiefs and commissioners on behalf of younger officers, arguing that membership of the new scheme was discriminatory on the grounds of age.

The Government conceded defeat in the legal case in August 2019, acknowledging that moving police officers onto new police pension schemes based on their age was discriminatory.

In May 2020, the PFEW launched its own action against the Government on the same basis as the Police Pensions Challenge. Those claims are still working their way through the Employment Tribunal.

As a result of the legal case – which was the same case as the claims won by the judges and firefighters – in April 2022, to ensure equal treatment, all active members of police pension schemes were moved over to the 2015 scheme.

The Home Office launched consultation plans on how to remedy the discrimination that occurred between April 2015 and March 2022.

New regulations are expected to be in place in October 2023, to remedy the discrimination.

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