The One about .... Pensions.

Writing a blog on this subject was an action I received, in the finest traditions of the service, from a meeting I wasn't actually present at. I can't fault the logic of getting me to write it, as I am subject to the new scheme which is perhaps unusual for a full time Fed rep at the moment, although we are growing in number. I wrote it a little while ago but hadn't found an opportunity 'to put it out there'. Following some conversations at the open day around pensions with some of those I met on the staff day, it seemed like a good idea to put this out now.

What follows is my personal experience on this subject, This BLOG isn't pension advice. The Federation and I personally cannot give pension advice. Anyone with questions about their pension should seek proper, qualified pension advice and always talk to your pension provider in the first instance.

Where to begin? I'll get the emotional stuff out of the way first. Yes I'm angry. I'm not getting what I started paying for 22 years ago, I miss out on taking it when I wanted to, my lump sum won't be what I thought it would be, I miss the last 10 years of double accrual under the 1987 scheme, I could go on! Who did I blame? Government, Federation, the force, pension providers could all be contenders. Why? Because I felt none of them did anything for me.

I therefore began to research what the pension changes meant for me personally. What worried me I realised was the lack of 'choice' I had. It felt like my choices had been taken away from me and that bothered me the most. Yes, I had to pay more, but this is the same for just about anyone who has a pension, public or private. I still had a secure job; I still had a pension that compared to most still seemed a pretty good deal. I won't ever agree with the changes, but I had to accept it wouldn't go back to what it was.

My research involved reading lots of stuff I didn't initially understand, I attended a police mutual input on pensions organised by Kent Police Federation and I asked lots of questions of people, literally anyone who would discuss pensions with me.

What I came to understand was the deal that police officers managed to get from Government based on what the Police Federation managed to negotiate. There is no formal role for the Federation to negotiate on pensions but all parties did so, which to a certain extent I am now thankful for.

Why? The key reasons for me, as I understand them, are:

  • For police officers there is the option to retire at 55 with an actuarially reduced pension which compares favourably to other services that still have 60 as the age to get to.

  • Transitional protections were put in place to assist many officers (like myself) who faced a cliff edge type scenario. Whilst not perfect it did restore some sort of recognition of what had been paid.

  • In addition, for the double accrual years missed, there is some sort of 'weighting' applied to compensate for the loss of these years. This varies depending on circumstances.

  • There is still the ability for those with a combination of pension schemes to access the 'pots' from the old schemes on the same terms, providing you have continued to pay into the new scheme and not dropped out. (This ensures you achieve the continued length of service required for the older schemes).

  • It is worth highlighting, that decisions made to leave before 55 under the CARE scheme can bring into play the state pension age as being the point when CARE scheme money is paid out. This is why I stress seeking proper pension advice before you make any decisions.

For me, it was the realisation that I still had some sort of 'choice' that I found reassuring. It won't ever be on the same terms but at least 'a choice' was there. The situation for anyone on the new scheme will be different for all and as I mentioned at the start of the blog, you must seek proper pension advice before making any decisions.

Let me clarify the fact that I'm not happy and probably won't ever be, with the Government on this issue. Do I still see and get a lot of blame for the changes directed towards the Federation? Yes, although if I'm honest I have never really understood it. The Federation never wanted or suggested the changes and in the background worked hard to win the concessions mentioned earlier. Did the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), properly communicate what they did or explain the negotiations they went through to the wider membership? I have to say no, I felt this was poor. I'm hoping it's a lesson that PFEW has learnt from. Unfairly, criticisms were levelled at Federation representatives who were within 'protected periods' that they didn't do anything because they were 'protected'. I do say this is unfair as all federation reps I have met from across the country care passionately about all of those they represent. To say they didn't bother to represent the vast majority of members on such an important issue is grossly unfair in my opinion.

Hopefully, my thoughts on this understandably emotive issue have provided 'food for thought' and will encourage those affected by the changes to look at and understand their own position with regards pensions.

Helpfully or unhelpfully, as I finish typing this someone has asked me if I had seen the article in the April/May edition of police magazine on pensions. I hadn't but having just looked at it, it is well worth reading, here is the link:

Importantly it updates on the recent pension challenges. Whilst I understand why these challenges are occurring, I do personally think we have to look at the wider implications of these and the potential impact on all members.

Chris Carter
Kent Police Federation