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Government In Court Over Discriminatory Firefighter Pensions

Pensions Experts Say Government Will Struggle To Justify Changes To Retirement Age


Kate Rawlings, Press Officer | 0114 274 4238

Pensions experts from law firm Irwin Mitchell say the Government and fire service employers of England and Wales may struggle to justify changes they made to the retirement age of firefighters in the face of age discrimination claims. 

This week, at London Central Employment Tribunal the Government is defending the pension scheme in court which sees some younger firefighters having to save over 85% of their wage in order to access the same pension value as their older colleagues. 

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) claim it is a “textbook” example of age discrimination against younger firefighters. 

The Firefighters’ Pension Scheme, introduced in 2015, saw thousands of younger firefighters compulsorily transferred into a scheme where they have to work until 60, pay more and work for longer only to receive a low value pension.

The FBU is arguing that firefighters younger than 45-years-old on 1 April 2012 were unfairly penalised by being forced into the scheme whereas older firefighters were allowed to remain in their original scheme. 

Now five test cases are being heard in court on behalf of the thousands of firefighters affected and the union also claim to have evidence of racial and gender discrimination in the scheme which allegedly affects a disproportionate number of women and ethnic minority firefighters.

The union also claims that the new pension arrangements raise safety concerns as it means firefighters aged 60 have to undertake physically demanding operation tasks. 

For more information on pensions, visit our Pensions Law page or contact our lawyers for comprehensive legal advice from setting up new schemes to pension litigation.

Expert Opinion
Each such discrimination case that is brought is broadly the same. They are about more generous public sector pension benefits being provided for people who are closer to retirement when a new scheme is introduced. Claimants bring age discrimination claims and equal pay claims and then women and black/ethic minorities bring indirect sex discrimination and race discrimination claims.

What is interesting about the police and fire-fighters age discrimination cases is that there is an added argument that once a worker reaches around a certain age, it becomes physically difficult and potentially dangerous for them to do their job so, the agreement is, they should be able to retire earlier than other workers. In theory this should make it less easy for their employer to be able to objectively justify changes to their retirement ages and pleading financial necessity may not be enough as a defence. Both aspects of these claims will be heavily scrutinised.
Penny Cogher, Partner