Government accepts pension age discrimination ruling applies to NHS scheme

A legal ruling that found age discrimination in public sector pension schemes for firefighters and judges means that different treatment based on age 'will need to be remedied' for NHS scheme members as well, the government has accepted.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

GPonline reported earlier this month that 'at least a dozen doctors', including GPs, had begun legal action against the government over age discrimination by the NHS pension scheme, with further cases backed by the BMA expected to follow.

GPs were named in cases that will challenge the government over 'the discriminatory impact of the pension changes that were introduced in 2015'. These changes saw doctors who were aged under 50 on 1 April 2015 denied benefits offered to doctors closer to retirement age.

The NHS cases followed a landmark Supreme Court decision in June that rejected a government appeal against a ruling that similar changes to pensions for firefighters and judges were unlawful.

NHS pensions

The BMA said earlier this year that if the appeal over firefighters' and judges' pensions failed, the government should 'agree that the 2015 NHS pension scheme does unlawfully discriminate against its younger members'.

In a written statement chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss told MPs that the government accepted the Supreme Court decision, and that continuing to oppose it would 'only add to the uncertainty' for members of public sector pension schemes.

She said: 'The government is committed to providing public service pensions that are fair for public sector workers and for taxpayers. This is why we brought forward reforms in 2015, based on the recommendations of the Hutton report, to ensure that these pensions are sustainable in the future.

'On 27 June 2019 the Supreme Court denied the government permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s judgment that transitional provisions introduced to the reformed judges and firefighters pension schemes in 2015 gave rise to unlawful age discrimination. The government respects the Court’s decision and will engage fully with the employment tribunal to agree how the discrimination will be remedied.'

Ms Truss said that ‘transitional protection’ offered to people close to retirement age  was intended to allow 'members who were closest to retirement at the time new pension schemes were introduced to remain members of their respective old schemes'.

Retirement age

But she added: 'The court has found that those too far away from retirement age to qualify for "transitional protection" have been unfairly discriminated against. As transitional protection was offered to members of all the main public service pension schemes, the government believes that the difference in treatment will need to be remedied across all those schemes. This includes schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces, judiciary and fire and rescue workers.'

Ms Truss said the government estimated that 'remedying the discrimination will add around £4bn per annum to scheme liabilities from 2015'.

She added that the government remained committed to ensuring that public service pensions were affordable for taxpayers and sustainable for the long term.

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