£17bn bill for pensions victory

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The Independent Online

About 60,000 British part-time workers have won a European court battle over pensions.

Judges in the European Court of Justice agreed that part-timers can backdate professional pension scheme membership as far as 1976. This overturns a British limit of just two years for what is called "retroactive affiliation".

The verdict could affect 60,000 individual cases launched in the UK courts challenging the compatibility with European Union law of British rules on equal pay for men and women, particularly for part-time employees.

Twenty-two of the cases were considered test cases by the UK Government, and the House of Lords passed them to the European Court of Luxembourg for a final ruling.

If the result is applied to all 60,000 claimants for full equality with full-time workers on pensions, the bill for British industry in bringing UK law up to EU requirements could reach £17 billion.

The Government suffered a surprise defeat in the Lords last night. Peers voted by 22 to 11 to allow people with an occupational pension to take out a new stakeholder pension "without financial penalty".

The amendment, moved by Tory frontbencher Lord Astor of Hever, came during the second committee day of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill, which has already cleared the Commons.