Saga website – update on Pensions Action Group campaign
by Dr. Ros Altmann
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It was a busy end to the Parliamentary term for the Pensions Action Group. The 2007 Pensions Act, which received Royal Assent just before Summer recess, delivered some improvements to the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS).
The changes will increase ‘initial’ FAS payments by about 25% – some welcome news for the 1,390 victims actually being paid. However, as there are over 10,000 past pension age, struggling without the pensions they paid for, the FAS remains hopelessly inadequate.
Tragically, several recently died before receiving any money or succumbed to stress-related illnesses and can no longer work. The FAS makes no allowances for ill-health and, even if scheme pension age was 60, nothing is paid before age 65. By contrast, the much more efficient and generous Pension Protection Fund (PPF), pays straight away, so people are not forced to work into retirement despite being unwell.
The House of Lords, with a thumping majority, defeated the Government and passed Pensions Bill amendments calling for FAS to pay the same as PPF. This would provide a fair, final resolution of this dreadful scandal. The Lords amendments would establish an emergency ‘lifeboat’ fund and ensure payments made without further delay. Shamefully, Labour MPs defeated these amendments in the Commons (with only about 20 courageous Labour rebels) so the FAS remains inadequate and the campaign must continue.
The interim Report from the Government Review investigating ways of improving the FAS, suggested that suspending annuitisation of scheme assets and using unclaimed life policies (as was done in Ireland), could easily fund a more generous FAS, along PPF lines. However, the final Report is only due in November – so yet more waiting. Members of solvent employer schemes, who are still totally excluded from FAS, also have to wait for the Review’s final Report.
While the Pensions Act was debated, the victims were in the Court of Appeal fighting Government attempts to overturn February’s High Court Judicial Review ruling that Ministers must accept the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s findings, because ‘no reasonable Secretary of State could rationally disagree with her’. Instead, the Government argued her conclusions were unsound, the victims do not deserve more help and the Government actually did nothing wrong at all! The Appeal ruling is expected in October.
Sadly, that leaves these poor people still waiting for justice. On 25th September, for the fifth year in a row, they will protest outside the Labour Party Conference, showing they are still ‘Stripped of Our Pensions’.
If you can join the march to Bournemouth International Centre, from 12.15pm at Exeter Road, it would be wonderful to meet you. Saga’s marvellous support has highlighted the terrible plight facing these people. They certainly need your help.
This is the worst pension scandal the UK has ever seen. Proud people, who did all the right things and trusted Government assurances of safety, have spent years begging for justice, but heartless Ministers have abandoned them. Any support you can give would be so welcome.