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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 12:29 GMT
Workers' pension fight continues
By Julian Knight
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

Money, calculator and documents

A bill to protect people who have company pensions has been announced in the Queen's Speech. But workers who have already seen their pensions disappear will not receive help. BBC News Online talks to one worker who is fighting for his pension rights.

It is every worker's nightmare.

You stay loyal to one firm for 27 years, paying vast sums into its pension scheme.

But as retirement nears, the company and its pension scheme goes up in smoke and with it your plans for a comfortable old age.

Bill Riggans, 62, is one of many UK workers living through this worst-case scenario.

"When I found out that my pension was at risk I went numb. I had always been told that my pension was safe, it was guaranteed deferred pay," he told BBC News Online.

We were looking forward to holidays with our six grandchildren and maybe taking up the right to buy our council house
Bill Riggans

Pipe dream

Bill had worked for Ayrshire-based United Engineering Forgings (UEF) - formerly a part of British Steel - for 37 years.

He expected to retire on at least 130 per week - plus the basic state pension - and with a tidy lump sum of 30,000 in his pocket.

Bill and wife Margaret, 59, were hardly expecting to live a life of luxury but they had planned their retirement carefully.

"We were looking forward to holidays with our six grandchildren and maybe taking up the right to buy our council house," Mr Riggans said.

But dreams of property ownership and foreign trips may now be a pipe dream for Bill and Margaret.

Shocked

Bill is a victim of a pension wind-up after his company went bust.

UEF went into administration in June 2001 and pension scheme was wound-up.

I thought my pension would guarantee a certain standard of living, instead I face having to claim means tested benefits
Bill Riggans

The stock market falls of recent years had eroded the health of the UEF pension scheme.

Bill and 1,300 other scheme members were shocked to discover soon after the firm folded that the scheme didn't have enough money to pay its members' pensions.

Under current pension rules, brought in after the Maxwell scandal, pensioners who have already retired are protected, but those are still working are not.

As a result, after a lifetime's contributions a worker can be left with very little, through no fault of their own.

In Bill's case, the size of his pension has shrunk to 40 per week and a lump sum of just 12,000.

"I thought my pension would guarantee a certain standard of living, instead I face having to claim means tested benefits."

Disappearing act

Sadly, Bill's plight is far from unusual.

Workers at a host of UK firms have seen their pension disappear along with their jobs.

In June, as part of its plan to reform company pensions, the government's Work and Pensions minister Andrew Smith said he intended to ensure that workers' schemes delivered on their promises.

Mr Smith outlined plans for a pension protection fund which were confirmed in the Queen's speech.

Put simply, the pensions compensation scheme is an insurance plan, funded by a levy on solvent pension schemes, designed to protect the pensions of workers whose employers go bust.

Injustice

From April 2005, schemes are to be forced to pay into the new pension protection fund, creating an insurance policy which will protect 90% of the value of current workers' pensions and the full value of retired members' pensions.

But the government has so far refused to allow the pension protection plan to pay workers retrospectively.

I will not give up until I and other workers have had justice
Bill Riggans

Bill and his fellow UEF scheme members are left out in the cold.

"If it is an injustice to leave workers with nothing for their hard work and savings from April 2005, surely it is an injustice to do so now."

Fighting on

Pensions minister Malcolm Wicks has recently said that a government U-turn was not on the cards in the upcoming session of parliament.

Mr Wicks admitted this would be "cold comfort" to those who had lost their pensions.

But Bill Riggans is not going to give up easily.

Supported by his wife Margaret, and the T & G union - which is taking the government to the European court over its alleged failure to protect workers' pensions - Bill vows to fight on.

He has taken a job at Scottish Stampings, a steelworks on the same site as UEF, and has organised protests and rallies.

"I will not give up until I and other workers have had justice," he told the BBC.




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