Police lead fight for pensions sex equality: Men are claiming discrimination over lump-sum rights

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The Independent Online
MALE employees in company pension schemes that give the right to swap some pension income for a lump sum on retirement should be checking whether they ought to lodge a claim with an industrial tribunal.

The claim would be for sex discrimination, as a man and a woman in the same position might not get the same cash.

The woman would get a larger sum as she is expected to live longer, and therefore giving up the same monthly amount would be reckoned to involve a more valuable right.

The Advocate-General of the European Court has said that annuity tables that predict life expectancy should be unisex, rather than based on one set of assumptions for women and another for men.

This would increase the lump sums available to men who trade part of their pension for cash on retirement, while women would be worse off. A final ruling from the court is expected in September or October following a test case involving the defunct Coloroll company.

In the three weeks since the Police Federation started advising its male members to lodge applications with appeals tribunals, applications from 80,000 policemen alleging sex discrimination have been filed with industrial tribunals. The federation expects 200,000 officers to lodge complaints.

Leslie Peckham, pensions officer for the federation, retired from the City of London force in 1987. His commuted lump sum of around pounds 36,000 was pounds 5,500 less than a woman in the same position would have received.

Ivan Walker, a partner with the solicitors Russell Jones & Walker, who act for the Police Federation, said: 'It would have been preferable to institute one action on behalf of all affected members, but English law does not permit that.'

An application for judicial review was also ruled out before it was decided to urge each member to apply to an industrial tribunal. The complaints are being held back until the final word from Europe on the test case.

Industrial tribunals normally handle 60,000 applications a year. Extra staff have had to be drafted in to cope with the workload created by the mass applications by policemen.

The federation represents 130,000 serving police officers, about 80 per cent men. Male officers who have retired since 8 April 1976 - the date when European laws applied in national courts - are also being urged to lodge complaints.

However, it is probable that if there is any element of retrospection in the European Court's decision it will go back only to 17 May 1990, when the Barber pensions equality case was decided.

Brian Wilson, an associate partner at the actuaries Bacon & Woodrow, said he was surprised that only male police officers had lodged complaints. Women have grounds for complaining that they have not been treated equally over widows' pensions.

Police officers pay 11 per cent of their salary into the pension scheme. Until 1990 women officers paid 8 per cent but did not earn widows' pension rights.

Lorainne Fletcher, deputy dean of the social policy department at the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: 'It is very difficult. That is why we have not been giving advice.' She said much of the impact of the judgment depended on how retrospection was interpreted.

But for the price of a stamp, employees in company schemes who may be affected by the decision can send off Form IT1, available from any law centre, Citizens Advice Bureau or employment office. If the judgment is not along the lines expected, the complaints can be withdrawn.

Glyn Jenkins, senior superannuation officer at Unison, the new union with more than a million members formed from Nupe, Nalgo and Cohse, is looking at the matter and may be issuing advice to members.

'But there are other areas of discrimination which have a higher priority,' he said.

Graham Clayton, senior solicitor with the National Union of Teachers, which has been fighting a long battle over sex discrimination and women teachers' rights to backdate pension terms over widows' pensions, said that teachers would not be affected by the unisex annuity rates ruling as they have a separate provision for a lump sum payment relating to past service rather than pension sacrifice.

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