Scandal of soldiers denied a pension – The Times 24 Aug 2012
By Deborah Haynes – Defence Editor of The Times
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The families of long-serving Army officers have urged the Defence Secretary to reverse a decision that will cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost pensions.
Relatives want the Government to review the military’s redundancy scheme after their loved ones were laid off months before becoming eligible for an immediate payment.
The Times can reveal that Philip Hammond had to write last week to the chairman of the Defence Select Committee after giving incorrect evidence on the matter.
He told MPs this summer that the amount of time an officer must serve to qualify for a pension had been cut by a year. This is true only for someone who had joined the military at 18. Most officers sign up in their 20s.
The group, calling themselves the “Unpensionables”, pounced on the error as a sign that Mr Hammond may not understand the effect of sacking an officer just before the immediate pension point of 16 years. “Devastated, insulted and complete disbelief,” one Army wife said, summing up her emotions. “It was not just the implementation of a policy, it was a complete betrayal.”
Jayne Bullock, 48, whose brother is a major with a wife and three children under the age of 5, began the campaign, Pension Justice for Troops, after her sibling was made redundant in June, only 82 days shy of the 16-year mark.
The relatives are speaking out because all of the officers are still serving and cannot talk publicly. “I was shocked. He will have no job, no house and no pension,” Ms Bullock, a retired teacher from South London, said.
Her brother was among 3,000 soldiers who took redundancy, many voluntarily, but some, including him, compulsorily, in the second of four planned rounds of job cuts that are taking place as the Army is reduced by 20,000 personnel to save money.
A survey by the Ministry of Defence indicated yesterday that officers were more dispirited than the rest of the Army. Two years since the Strategic Defence and Security Review, almost two thirds of senior staff rate morale as low — up 38 per cent to 63 per cent — while less than a fifth of troops across the board believe it to be high.
Two more waves of redundancies are expected in the next two years, and there is a worry that more officers will suffer the same fate as Ms Bullock’s brother.
“If this isn’t tackled now, and the issue isn’t reviewed, there are going to be many more “unpensionables’,” she said. “The aim of this campaign is to get a review of these redundancies. We think there has been a mistake, perhaps, in how the process of redundancies has been set up. It could be a genuine oversight, in which case I am sure Mr Hammond will want to put it right.”
The Defence Secretary has already conceded in a letter from his principle private secretary to Ms Bullock that his evidence before the Defence Select Committee was wrong. “You will appreciate that this is a complex topic, not least because there are two Armed Forces Pensions Schemes and two Armed Forces Redundancy Schemes in operation,” the letter, dated August 16 and written by Emma Davies, said. “This, together with the unusual level of turnover and leave within the department, meant that the briefing the Secretary of State received in advance of the committee was not as complete as he would have liked and led to him making a comment that was inaccurate in this area.”
Alan Higham, a pension expert, has been offering advice to the Bullock family. He questioned whether the redundancy policy was properly understood by the Government. “Was this policy properly constituted? Was the implication on the individual understood and was it blessed by the Pay Review Board,” he asked.
Under the redundancy scheme, any officer not entitled to an immediate pension receives a higher lump sum in compensation, which is designed to make up for the loss.
Mr Higham went through the pension and compensation figures relating to Ms Bullock’s brother. Provided that the numbers were correct, he said that the major was being given £20,000 in compensation for missing out on an annual pension payment of £12,000, which he should have received from the age of 37. “It does seem to me on looking at that, that he is losing out on about £200,000 worth of pension for £20,000 more cash,” he said.
At least 80 officers and lower ranks have been sacked a year before they became eligible for a pension, with even more missing out by up to two years. Ms Bullock has released an e-petition that asks the Government for an “urgent review” of the situation.
An MoD spokesman said that the length of service was not a consideration in the selection of individuals for redundancy. “We have worked hard to ensure that those selected for redundancy receive the best possible pension and compensation package,” he added.
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