Lords expected to back amendments for fair compensation

by Dr. Ros Altmann

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Naked Pensioners to demonstrate outside Parliament before House of Lords vote

Wednesday 6 June, 12.45pm on Parliament Green

The Government faces defeated in the House of Lords tomorrow (Wednesday 6th June). Peers will back proposals to ensure that fair compensation finally gets through to the thousands of victims of failed company pension schemes who are still fighting and begging for justice.  Some of those affected will again be travelling from all over the country to strip off outside Parliament to highlight their plight and yet again to show that, despite Government promises of more help, they have not been rescued.  They will be protesting on Parliament Green from 12.45pm on Wednesday 6th June, with photo opportunities and interviews for interested journalists.

The proposed amendments to the Pensions Bill are backed by the Tories, LibDems, a number of cross-benchers and probably some Labour peers, who will all be voting against the Government to try to finally resolve this scandal.  The proposals would ensure the hopelessly flawed Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) pays out benefits on a par with those in the Pension Protection Fund and, crucially, will also ensure that the payments start as soon as the victims reach scheme pension age.  A Lifeboat Fund would be established to help mitigate costs to the taxpayer, by using scheme assets and unclaimed financial sector assets that the Government can collect for this purpose. 

The amendments will then go back to the House of Commons for the Third Reading of the Pensions Bill, which could provide the first big policy test for the new Prime Minister. 

Peers will throw down the gauntlet to Gordon Brown to try to force him to recognise that the Government must properly address its failure to rescue these people.  The Financial Assistance Scheme has simply not delivered.  Despite fine words, promises of billions of pounds and yet another Review (which will not report until end-2007) there remain thousands of people who are well past pension age but are still receiving no help at all.  Some are being forced to keep working, despite serious illness, just to try and make ends meet.  Bureaucratic delays have held up their compensation as the Government has failed to tackle the problem with the required sense of urgency. 

Despite the recent Judicial Review victory in the High Court ordering the Government to admit it is guilty of maladministration and reconsider the FAS, the scandal continues. Sadly, the victims are now having to mount a second Judicial Review to ask the Courts to rule again that the Government's response is inadequate.  The recent extensions of the FAS, while welcome, cannot actually resolve this scandal.  Now that he is about to be Prime Minister, Gordon Brown will be free to look at the bigger picture and make his own decisions.   He says that he admires courage – let's hope he has the courage to finally and urgently end this scandal in a fair and decent manner.
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