Pensioners to speak with stronger voice: Umbrella group will represent members of occupational schemes

A NEW voice for retired members of occupational pension schemes should emerge later this month with the establishment of the Confederation of Occupational Pensioners' Associations.

The creation of Copas as an umbrella group linking existing pensioners' organisations is due to be announced after a meeting in London on 25 March.

The prime mover behind the idea is Impac, the Imperial Pensioners' Action Call, one of the strongest groups of occupational pensioners with several thousand members in the Imperial Tobacco and Imperial Foods pension schemes. Other organisations involved in the launch meeting include the Association of Mirror Pensioners and groups representing British Airways and Wimpey pensioners.

According to Michael Smedley, Impac's chairman, occupational pensioners need to assert their interests when the control and ownership of pension fund surpluses is the focus of public debate. 'What we'vegot to keep on saying is that pension funds are not a savings bank for companies,' he said. 'Companies shouldn't be able to use the money in pension funds for anything except pensions, at least until pensioners have got the maximum allowed by Inland Revenue rules.'

Mr Smedley is critical of recent moves by some companies to use pension fund surpluses to pay for redundancies.

The formation of Copas comes a few weeks after legal action by some Lucas pensioners against their own pension trustees reached the High Court. The move is to test the legality of a decision that allowed Lucas to take back pounds 150m from the pension fund.

Doug Taylor, a spokesman for the Lucas Retired Members Association (Central Birmingham), one of the plaintiffs, backs the Copas idea of mutual support between pension groups. 'If there's a little firm where members find out that something is going on with the pension fund, at the moment it's very difficult to know where to go,' he said.

Impac itself was involved in a protracted (and ultimately generally successful) legal action against Imperial's parent firm, Hanson, after it attempted to restructure the firm's pension arrangements.

The plans to establish Copas have emerged after several months of informal liaison between pensioner associations, particularly over submissions to the current Goode Committee review of pensions law.

'About 10-12 organisations exchanged ideas and briefed each other on what we were doing for the Goode Committee,' said Mr Smedley. He is now trying to contact other occupational pensioner organisations to ensure they have the opportunity to be represented at the meeting.

For more information from Impac, phone 0926-423315.

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