Armed Forces Pension's common problems/solutions
Of the many thousands of actions we have addressed on behalf of members, the ones illustrated here show the more common problems that arise.
In the past four years there have been over 10,000 divorces involving serving and ex-serving military personnel. Most are unaware of the rules and procedures to be followed for the award of a pension sharing order and the ramifications once it has been administered. The FPS deals with either partner (sometimes both!) in their quest for knowledge to understand their rights in a sensitive and understanding manner.
Our experts can help you understand what your pension could be, whether you’re a serving member of the Armed Forces trying to make sense of your potential income once you leave the Services, an ex-Serviceman concerned about a potential widow's pension for your wife (should you predecease her), or ex-Service personnel who left before age 55 and keen to know how much their pension will increase by when they reach their 55th birthday.
Questions usually come from ex-Service personnel who left the Armed Forces without an immediate pension on discharge – we help them find out whether any entitlement exists for them in the form of a Preserved Pension.
Let me tell you about this ruling in case you are not aware of it. It is the rule whereby the vast majority1 of Service widows have their pension taken away when they, as a result of the happiness of finding a later love, choose to cohabit or remarry. The arrangement which pertains is a bygone of former thinking and it is reprehensible. It is not enforced in full so it invites betrayal, and blackmail. It turns honourable Service widows into clandestine partners and back door visitors. Worse still, it keeps people apart disproportionately at the poorer end of the spectrum, those who can’t afford to lose their pensions, who would be a more robust social unit together. Of course there are knock-ons here to the other portfolios of government.
And the scale and cost? Well, over the last three years, the Government Actuaries tell us, on average, 15 widows are stripped of their pensions annually and the average value of those pensions is less than £3,000. An insignificant sum.
At our parliamentary lunch on 27th November 2007 our President, General Sir Roger Wheeler, launched our campaign to tackle the Widows Pension For Life Rule. (Subsequently restyled Justice For Widows). Chairman HCDC, James Arbuthnott, immediately that same day tabled a Parliamentary Question asking for details of number of pensions surrendered and saving to the defence budget. The MOD commissioned a report from the Government Actuary’s Department, which we have analysed carefully. We have had several amicable exchanges and a meeting with the Minister concerned, Kevan Jones, and he has agreed to deliberate on the setting aside of the rule.
Of course it is not as simple as the picture I paint. In theory, as opposed to prevailing practice, there is a very large number of widows potentially capable of remarrying over the next decades. If these are assumed at the very highest rate and costed to the fullest degree then there could be receipts to the public purse from sequestered widows’ pensions amounting to figures ranging from £70 Million to up to £350 Million over 40 years. At these levels the figures, if they were to come about, would represent even greater ill-treatment of this group. But whatever the theoretical costs, the actual costs are insignificant and the rules unenforceable - except in a totalitarian state. They reflect the thinking of the past, deeming a woman to be an appendage, a chattel, a relict in mediaeval terms. If not removed they remain with us for a scandalous 40 years more. The MOD will argue that the same exists in other government schemes. But only the MOD leaves its schemes unaltered for such a long time so that they get so antiquated.
I will not deal here with the subject of the death of a second husband and the means test then imposed to restore first or second husband’s pension except to say that it is an area where such means testing is still applied – to Service widows of all people, demeaning, prying and nerve wracking. We must change this – and soon.
1 Government Actuary’s words
On 6th April 1978 the Armed Forces Pension Scheme was changed to allow widows who married their husbands after leaving the Armed Forces to have a pension. There was no opportunity to 'buy-in' previous service so there is a block that bars any service prior to 6th April 1978 from counting towards such a pension. Some widows have no entitlement because their husbands left the Armed Forces prior to this date; others have only a portion of entitlement because their husbands had service before and after that date. FPS have long campaigned on this matter and so far have had no success in persuading the Government to remove this unfairness.
On 31st March 1973 the Armed Forces Pension Scheme was changed to allow widows to have a pension valued at half of their husband's pension, as opposed to one-third. Those serving on that date were given the opportunity of 'buying-in' all of their service prior to 31st March 1973 into the Half Rate Scheme. Those who had already left the Services were not permitted to take part in this new benefit.
This affects individuals who left the Armed Forces in a year that suffered a suppressed pay rise that was lower than the previous September's headline rate of inflation, resulting in a pension award lower than those who left the Services at the same time 12 months previously, in identical circumstances. We have successfully persuaded the MOD to insert a mechanism into the new pension scheme (AFPS 05) to ameliorate this serious problem, although it does not remove it completely.
Some of the Society's members find cause to make an official complaint about the way the Armed Forces Pension Scheme has, in their eyes, served them unfairly. We will guide them through the complexities of the complaints procedure as painlessly as possible until a conclusion (hopefully satisfactory) has been reached.
Given the level of conflict the Armed Forces constantly find themselves in at present, medical discharges are becoming more prevalent. All too often the individual is given little notice of the impending medical board. More disturbingly, they seem to be unable to obtain any details of potential pension awards. Members of the FPS are given advice on the procedures.