Firefighters pension schemes – current reforms
A new pension scheme for firefighters is to be introduced from April 2015. This is as part of the Government’s reforms to public service pensions, which started with the establishment of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission, chaired by former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary, Lord Hutton of Furness, after the 2010 general election.
Following the publication of the Commission’s interim report in October 2010, the Government said it would increase member contribution rates across public service schemes (except for the armed forces) by an average of 3.2 percentage points by 2014/15. Contribution rates increased in April 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Recommendations of the Commission’s final report, published in March 2011, included replacing existing schemes with new ones, with pension entitlement based on career average earnings and increasing the normal pension age to 60 for the firefighters, police and armed forces. The Government accepted the Commission’s recommendations as a basis for consultation with the trade unions.
In May 2012, the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) announced its proposed final agreement for a new firefighters’ pension scheme in England, to be introduced from April 2015. Key features of the new scheme include pension benefits based on career average earnings, a normal pension age of 60, and average member contributions of 13.2%. As with other public service schemes, there will be transitional protection for those closest to retirement. All active scheme members who, as of 1 April 2012, had 10 years or less to their current normal pension age will remain in the current scheme and there will be tapered protection for scheme members between 10 and 14 years of normal pension age on that date.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) described the reform proposals as “unacceptable” on the grounds that it proposed “unaffordable and unfair contribution rates”, a “totally unrealistic retirement age” and an “unsustainable scheme for the fire service. It has continued to campaign for changes, particularly for firefighters in England. A key concern has been the position of firefighters aged 55 and over who cannot retain the required levels of fitness to age 60 but do not have a permanent medical condition such that they qualify for an ill-health pension – see section 3.5 below.
Legislation to provide the framework for the new scheme was provided for in the Public Service Pensions Act 2013. Regulations to implement the new scheme for firefighters in England – The Firefighters’ Pension Scheme (England) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/2848) were laid before Parliament on 28 October 2014. The Opposition tabled Early Day Motion 454 praying against the regulations, which were debated in Parliament on 15 December 2014. The House voted to keep the regulations. Earlier the same day, the Government announced that it was making an amendment to the Fire and Rescue National Framework. It said this would guarantee that “if there is not an underlying medical condition and [firefighters] cannot pass the fitness test, either they will receive an alternative role or the authority will have to initiate a pension.” (HC Deb 15 December 2014 c1115). Following the debate, the FBU wrote to fire authorities to ask how this would be implemented. Based on the responses, it argues that the “claims of a ‘guarantee’ are empty and meaningless.” (Circular 0078MW).