The "Pre-1975 service pensions injustice"

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The pre-1975 service pensions grievance relates to British ex-servicemen and women who served as regular 'Other Ranks', and left the armed forces before April 1975 without completing a full 22-year career. They have no pension for their years of service in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines, British Army or Royal Air Force. The issue also affects the widows and widowers of pre-1975 service personnel.

For reasons explained below, BAFF does not campaign about this matter but we understand that a few of our veteran members are affected by it, so this article is presented for information.

The Armed Forces Pension Group (AFPG) [disbanded 2015] explained that:

Our aim is to secure equality of pensions for former regular members of the Armed Forces who served for fewer than 22 years at any time to April 1975 and who were discharged before 5th April 1975. This also applies to those regulars who were discharged prior to 1981 who do not meet the criteria of length of service and age. We ask Her Majesty's Government for pension rights based on years of service and related, pro rata, to pensions received by contemporaries who completed 22 years of service.

According to Veterans UK:

Service deferred pensions. Prior to 6 April 1975 there was no provision for a preservation of pension benefits and service personnel who left the armed forces had to have completed 16 years from age 21 (officers) or 22 years from age 18 (other ranks). Those who left before that date without completing the above criteria, lost all pension entitlement. The rules changed on 6 April 1975...

"Deferred pensions" are also known as "preserved pensions".

Comparison with treatment of pre-1975 "early leavers" from the Civil Service

It has been claimed that pre-1975 early leavers from the armed forces were not only treated badly, but treated much worse than their contemporaries in other employments, particularly those in the civil service.

The theory seems to be that, unlike their counterparts in the armed forces, pre-1975 civil service "early leavers" were retrospectively allowed to qualify for preserved pensions, which came in after they had already left the service.

A variation on that theory is that if pre-1975 civil service early leavers didn't qualify for preserved pensions either, at least they hadn't suffered the same injustice as their armed forces counterparts, because civil service pay (supposedly) took no account of the employer's pension expenditure.

Fact check: Were pre-1975 early leavers from the Civil Service granted preserved pensions unlike their counterparts in the armed forces?

The MoD's "Pre-AFPS 75 Factsheet" contends that armed forces personnel who left before the introduction of preserved pensions were, in fact, treated no differently from their counterparts in other Government employments:

Claims are sometimes made that the Armed Forces are treated less favourably in respect of preserved pensions than other members of public sector pension schemes. This is not correct. For example, to qualify for a pension under the Civil Service arrangements, an individual had to be over age 50 and have served for ten or more years. Those who left voluntarily before meeting these criteria lost rights to pensions.

That's supported by a briefing note on "Civil service pensions - Reforms to 2010" from the House of Commons Library, which is independent of HM Government:

Preserved pensions  The contentious points with regards to preserved pensions surround the status of civil servants who resigned from their post before the age of 50, pre-1975. At that time, individuals generally had no statutory rights to preserved benefits, or to receive back the contributions that they had paid into an occupational pension scheme. In practice many schemes did give members a right to a refund of their contributions but in many non-contributory schemes, such as the PCSPS [Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme] and some private schemes, early leavers ended up with nothing. The Social Security Act 1973 introduced for the first time, for those who left after April 1975, a right to a deferred pension.

The briefing note continues, and this couldn't be clearer:

As with the other improvements to the scheme in the 1970s, the preserved pension rules were not applied retrospectively to people who had already left the civil service. So service before 1975 does not ‘count’ for civil servants who resigned before that date, even if they later rejoined the service.

It wasn't just the civil service and the armed forces who were treated in this way. According to a BBC News story in 2002, a Pensions Advisory Service expert, reacting to the original campaign about pre-AFPS 75 forces leavers, mentioned

... even worse pension losses than those experienced by ex-military staff, whose companies had their own pre-1975 pension rules. At the General Post Office for example, staff had to work for at least 10 years and until the age of 50 to keep their pension rights - so someone who started at 21 years old, worked for 28 years and left aged 50, would have got nothing.

Campaigners rightly point out that armed forces pay is "abated" (reduced) to account for pension expenditure by the employer. But the same applies, in principle, to any employment where at least part of an occupational pension is funded by the employer, in other words where the pension is wholly or partly "non-contributory".

According to a 2010 briefing for the Public Service Pensioners' Council and the Civil Service Pensioners' Alliance:

Most public service pensions are contributory but others such as the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS) are non‐contributory, aside from between 1.5%‐3.5% compulsory employee contributions for additional family benefits. However, civil service salaries are effectively reduced by about 6 per cent in comparison with similar outside employments, to account for the non‐contributory aspect.

A 6 per cent deduction from civil service pay was also mentioned in a House of Lords Ministerial Answer in November 1975.

Comment:  Persistent factual inaccuracies can't have helped the credibility of the core campaign. If comparisons were to be made between pre-1975 armed forces personnel and those in other occupations, it might have been better to point to the contrasting risks, hardships and conditions of service and the fact that servicemen and women were subject to military discipline and had no rights such as collective representation.

Another demonstration of the need for an independent armed forces federation

A Pensions Advisory Service expert (already quoted in the above Fact check) also said in 2002 that

The loss of these servicemen's pension rights is now becoming important to them 27 years on but they should have been campaigning back in 1975.

One of the most troubling aspects of the pre-1975 service pensions grievance is that the service authorities made no realistic attempt to inform personnel after the Social Security Act 1973 had been introduced in Parliament, and then passed into law, but not yet fully implemented.

Although the legislation was passed in September 1973, having been in preparation long before that date, outrageously it was not until the last moment - March 1975 - that the MoD took the trouble to issue a leaflet to explain the main features of preserved pensions, and give notice that they would apply to those who served on or after April 6 1975. Given the time typically taken to distribute such material in UK or overseas, very few personnel would have seen the leaflet (if they saw it at all) before the changes had already taken place.

Some personnel had already been discharged against their will when the authorities already well knew that the changes were pending. Many others left voluntarily without knowing that they would be missing out on significant pension benefits in later life.

If an independent representative armed forces federation had existed at the time, service personnel would at the very least have been better informed about their options before leaving the service voluntarily. And those faced with discharge against their wishes in order to evade their pension entitlement could have found an independent champion, which the chain of command did not - and could not - provide.

Why BAFF hasn't campaigned about this pension issue

As a British armed forces veteran, any ex-serviceman or ex-servicewoman affected by this issue is very welcome to join BAFF.

But we always left active campaigning about the pre-1975 pension injustice to the various groups which were formed specifically for that purpose. Because we made that clear from the start, BAFF had only one early enquirer about representation on that issue, whom we supplied with contact details for 'CAFFUK' (not a current recommendation).

BAFF did offer assistance and cooperation in a purely supportive role both to "Combined Armed Forces Federation" (CAFFUK), and to "Armed Forces Pension Group" (AFPG). AFPG readily accepted research assistance using BAFF overseas contacts. CAFFUK responded 'differently'.

A third campaign group was formed in 2010: "Equality for Veterans Association" (EFVA).

AFPG and EfVA both decided to wind up in 2015. See Updates about the pre-1975 service pensions injustice.

An online petition is actively running as of Spring 2018:

Officer pensions

A similar issue arguably affects commissioned officers who served for less than 16 years but they, in many cases, at least received a gratuity which was not available to their non-commissioned counterparts. For example, a QARANC Lieutenant who left in 1974 before completing 16 years might have received a gratuity, whereas one of our members, a QARANC SNCO who left at the same time after the same period of service, with the same professional qualifications and having performed the same duties, left with nothing. Officer gratuities were not in lieu of pensions, but intended to assist those with short or limited service with their resettlement into civilian life; no such provision was made for "Other Ranks".

Advisory Committee on Recruiting under the Chairmanship of Sir James Grigg (1958)

One of twelve recommendations by the Grigg Committee (1958) would have benefited pre-1975 armed forces "early leavers" who took up later employment in the Civil Service:

Picture of a paragraph in the Grigg Committee's recommendations

but the Government never accepted that recommendation.

If it really had been accepted it would have needed legislation, as well as financial provision.

Also, despite any claim to the contrary, the recommendation wouldn't have helped pre-1975 early leavers who didn't take up subsequent employment with the Civil Service.

More about the 'Independent Committee on Factors affecting Recruitment in the Armed Forces' (Grigg Committee, 1958)

The other eleven Grigg Committee recommendations were accepted and duly implemented, but had nothing to do with so-called early leavers.

More (long story) at Updates 2/2013 and 3/2012 [log in required]. If campaigners were interested in researching these questions, a quick online search shows several files relating to the Grigg Committee recommendations held by the National Archives at Kew, such as:

and this held by the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University:

Historical footnote: Sir James Grigg, who chaired that "Advisory Committee on Recruiting", is the subject of a chapter in FM Montgomery's The Path to Leadership (1961). "PJ" Grigg lost his own Civil Service pension rights on acceding to Churchill's request to leave the top official post in the War Office to become its political head, as Secretary of State for War (1942-45).

Montgomery says that Grigg "proved to be the best Secretary of State for War we have ever had in the army within my personal experience";  and that "deceit of any kind" was one of the two faults which Grigg would never forgive.