TPO has upheld a complaint by a member who argued that, because his employer failed to alert him about changes to late retirement factors in good time, his retirement benefits were reduced.
Mr N was employed by Police Scotland, and a member of the LGPS (Lothian Pension Fund) (“the Scheme”). Mr N’s NPA was 65. At the time the Scheme made changes to its late retirement factors (in June 2017), Mr N was over 68, and therefore classed as a late retirement member.
Advice relating to actuarial guidance concerning changes to late retirement factors was circulated to Scottish Local Authorities (including Police Scotland) by the Scheme’s administrator in February 2017. However, despite the fact that the circular warned that potentially affected scheme members should be notified “as soon as possible” of the changes, Mr N only discovered the advice, by accident, in March 2018.
Mr N complained to his employer. Police Scotland responded that it had not received the employer bulletin containing the information, and argued that, even if it had, it was not legally obliged to notify members of the change, as it pertained to the administration of the scheme and therefore the duty fell on the scheme manager instead.
Police Scotland rejected Mr N’s complaint, also stating that it was not a matter for its grievance procedure, and failed to respond to his subsequent complaints.
TPO upheld the complaint, in agreement with the Adjudicator.
The Adjudicator had determined that Police Scotland had received the bulletin, and that it had been issued in plenty of time for them to take action ahead of the implementation of the new factors. It was reasonable to expect them to provide “salient information” to affected members on the impact of the changes, as directed by the bulletin. As a responsible employer, Police Scotland had a duty of care to inform affected members of the implications of the change on their benefits. “This was not a matter of an employer giving advice. This was about the provision of relevant information to employees about the impact on… benefits”.
TPO also noted that Police Scotland did not cooperate with it, the member or ACAS regarding the complaint (other than an initial formal response). TPO concluded that they had not “treated this complaint with the degree of respect and care that one would expect of an employer towards its employees”, and that this was “consistent with the lack of attention” it had given to the impact the changes would have on Mr N’s benefits.
Police Scotland was ordered to calculate the late retirement benefits Mr N would have received had he elected to take his pension in June 2017 (ie before the change). In addition, they were ordered to pay the member the total arrears of pension instalments, including any tax-free cash, due from that date, subject to interest from June 2017 to the date of payment.
TPO awarded the member £2,000 for the “severe level of distress and inconvenience” caused by both Police Scotland’s failure to pass on the information initially, and the later failure to respond to any part of the complaints.
The case serves as a useful reminder of the duty employers have to take care in communicating with members (see also Corsham), and also the need to engage with members and TPO, as appropriate, during the progress of a complaint.