Press Release – High court verdict Government irrational and unlawful
by Dr. Ros Altmann
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GOVERNMENT BEHAVIOUR IRRATIONAL AND UNLAWFUL – OFFICIAL!
A wonderful victory. Today the Judge in the High Court has said to the Government that it has to admit it is guilty of misleading the public with information that told them their pensions were safe, when the Government knew they were not. Indeed, the judge says that the Governments denial of any wrongdoing is ‘irrational’. The Ombudsman concluded that the information provided to the public, which lulled them into a false sense of security, was misleading and that ‘no reasonable Secretary of State could rationally disagree with that view’.
The judge also said that the Government must reconsider its rejection of the Ombudsman’s recommendations for compensation too – in other words that the Financial Assistance Scheme must be re-thought, on the basis that the Government is guilty. So far, the FAS has been little more than political spin, designed to pretend it is providing help, when in reality it has failed to do so. Thousands of people are struggling without their pensions, tens of thousands have lost future pensions and yet just a few hundred people have had a penny of this ‘assistance’.
The Government’s behaviour all along has been shameful and heartless. It has focussed all its efforts on denying its role in this affair, rather than owning up to its mistakes and organising a proper rescue.
Parliament must now act quickly to sort this out. Over half of all the MPs in the Commons have now signed Early Day Motions to support compensation. The Government faces defeat, yet again, on this issue, as the Pensions Bill goes through the House. The cost of compensation need not be frightening – a commitment of £100-£150m a year, for about 60 years, or a sum of £3billion set aside today would be enough to settle this matter once and for all. Taxpayers do not have to foot the whole bill, but Government must organise it. So much taxpayers money has already been wasted on the FAS and also on defending this case in court, rather than using that money to provide proper compensation. There are billions of pounds in unclaimed assets that could be used. If Government has wronged people, it cannot just claim the cost of righting the wrong is too high – it has to find a way.
In 2000, Alistair Darling – then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – committed this Government to compensating those who lose out as a result of misleading information. It is now time for him to make sure he lives up to that commitment and puts pressure within the Cabinet for a change of approach. This is what Mr. Darling said, in 2000, in Parliament. ‘The giving of wrong information by a Department is inexcusable. There is a clear responsibility to ensure that the information that Departments provide is accurate and complete… We shall also provide redress for those people who were wrongly informed and who, had they known the true position, might have made different arrangements. ..As a matter of principle, we believe that when someone loses out because they were given the wrong information by a Department, they are entitled to redress…The public rely on Government information and they are entitled to be reassured that leaflets are accurate and comprehensive.’