Law Lords set to clarify part-time pensions ruling

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The Independent Online

Thousands of public sector workers who were blocked from joining a pension scheme may miss out on compensation due to bad advice from the Government. Unions representing the workers have condemned as a "scandal" the Government's policy of not explaining to people the full implications of the landmark judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in May.

Thousands of public sector workers who were blocked from joining a pension scheme may miss out on compensation due to bad advice from the Government. Unions representing the workers have condemned as a "scandal" the Government's policy of not explaining to people the full implications of the landmark judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in May.

Some 60,000 part-time workers are set to benefit from the ruling, which said UK employers - including the Government - who prevented part-time staff from paying in to their occupational pension scheme acted illegally. However, some people who may be able to claim pension payouts that date back as far as 1976 and are worth thousands of pounds, may miss out if they do not make their claim in time.

The House of Lords - which will today hear legal arguments about how the ECJ judgement fits in to British law - may decide people must make their claim within six months after leaving the job in which they were discriminated. If they do not claim within that time, they will lose any right to make a claim. The six unions that brought and won 22 test cases in Europe have already expressed fears that this could mean some 30,000 people lose out and are pressing for the time limit to extend to six years.

But the TUC and other unions reacted angrily when it emerged after an Independent investigation that this number could be even higher, as the Government has chosen not to point out to hundreds of public sector employees how important it is to lodge a claim as soon as possible. People in public sector jobs who try to find out how the ECJ judgement may affect them are told that the answer will not be clear until the House of Lords has given its decision. This is not likely to happen until the autumn, with some Government insiders saying it will not come until early next year.

Critics say the Government policy, reached after wide consultation with lawyers, could mean some people will loose their chance to claim because they will not make further enquiries until after the Lords decision, which may push them outside the time limit.

Amanda Brown, National Union of Teachers legal representative in the case , said: "To say that they are waiting to hear what the House of Lords says is close to a scandal. What they should be doing is to tell people to check now whether they have grounds for a claim."

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "There is no legal obligation at the moment to give guidance. If people have enough nous to try to find out about the decision they should have enough to go ahead and make a claim."

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