An ex-fireman who claimed Government failures saw up to 20% knocked off his pension has had his complaint upheld.
Mr Stuart Newman appeared from South Africa on Skype before the States Complaints Board (SCB) in September.
At the hearing, he claimed that he had been unfairly denied a revaluation on his pension and had not been clearly informed of changes to rates.
Mr Newman told the board he had sought pension advice in February 2018, when he started to plan for early retirement and contacted his line manager to organise it.
When he received advice back from the Treasury Department, he was told that no valuations on pension prices were being undertaken until "post 15th or mid-May" as a result of changes being made to the Public Employees Contributory Retirement Scheme.
On receipt of his pension, he found it significantly lower than colleagues who had got theirs earlier in the year due to Market Value Adjustment.
Pictured: Adjustments meant that Mr Newman lost out on between 10-20% of the pension he would have received.
Though the Treasury Department later allowed for revaluations for anyone who had applied before 1 May 2018, Mr Newman’s request for revaluation was rejected, with the Department claiming they had no record of any phone calls before 29 May and assessing him at the post-evaluation rate.
However, this was something Mr Newman disputed, with the Board noting at the hearing that he had a “very senior officer” at the Fire Service backing his claims that he had attempted communication as early as March.
Mr Chris Beirne, one of two Deputy Chairmen of the Complaints Panel, said: “It was clear to the Board that, contrary to the Department’s conclusion, contact had been made prior to this date and Mr. Newman’s account was entirely credible.
“We were surprised that such a significant change to the pensions process could have been implemented without there having been a notice period communicated widely to the Fund members. We were also concerned that there were no written procedures, or a Service Level Agreement, which could be applied to valuations, or indeed any detail of the procedure to be followed whenever that service was altered.”
Pictured: The Board recommended the department make sure they clearly communicate changes to funds are proposed.
Deputy Chairman Stuart Catchpole QC said: “This is not the only case where issues of jurisdiction have been (belatedly) raised, or where Departments have not fully engaged with the Complaints Panel process.
"It is to be hoped that in future, Departments will continue to engage fully with the Panel, given its role in helping to ensure public confidence in decision -making by asking those responsible to justify their actions in public before impartial members of the community.
“We certainly do not agree that public employees like Mr. Newman should be left without any form of redress in circumstances such as the present case, nor do we agree that it was the intention of the States when establishing the Panel, to leave those charged with administering and making decisions in relation to the pensions of States employees to do so without being accountable to anyone or to have their decisions and actions protected from appropriate, independent public scrutiny."
The board have recommended that Mr Newman’s case should be re-evaluated according to the principles prior to 1 May 2018.
In addition, they have also recommended clear communication whenever changes to the fund such as this one are proposed.
The Government is yet to officially respond to the board's findings. Treasurer Richard Bell commented, however: "Whilst we may not agree with all the findings of the Board, I thank the members for the report and the obvious lengthy consideration given.
“I also recognise the important role the Board plays – not least the considerable time commitment given by its members for no remuneration. As a result, it is important to reflect upon the views and findings expressed by the Board. We will do that."
Mr Bell continued: "Treasury and Exchequer administers the Public Employees’ Pension Fund (PEPF) benefits in accordance with legislation and the decisions made by the Committee of Management, along with our own administrative processes and procedures.
“All complaints - including this one - are subject to the four-stage PEPF complaints process.
“We have been co-operating with the Complaints Board since 2019. At one point there was a period of over five months waiting to hear from the Board, having responded to its initial enquiries.
“Once it was confirmed that the enquiries would move to a hearing, we rightly considered carefully the matter of jurisdiction and concur with the view of the Committee of Management. The Board has tendered its own views as to its jurisdiction. It is self-evident, that this is an area that may benefit from further clarity in developing legislation in respect of the office of Public Service Ombudsman."
Pictured: Treasurer Richard Bell said the Government's dealings with the SCB had led him to conclude that developing a Public Service Ombudsman would be beneficial.
“Whether or not to reconsider the decision, further to the Board’s report, is a matter for the Committee of Management, taking into account its duties to Mr Newman and to the membership of the Fund as a whole," he added.
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