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EDITIONS
Working Lunch Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Pensioners prepare for battle
Soldiers in battle
Ex-soldiers say they're owed a pension for their service
Workers who lost out on pension rights, before the introduction of fairer legislation in 1975, will be interested in a legal challenge being made by ex-servicemen against the government.

Today, anyone, of any age, who is employed for a minimum of two years, is entitled to a preserved pension but before the 1973 Social Security Act introduced improvements, there were no such rights.

Someone who served in the Army, Navy or Royal Air Force before 1 April 1975 and for less than 22 years was left with no preserved pension rights.
John Stiff, Armed Forces Pension Group member
John Stiff: "I'm owed at least 51,000."

In the mid 1990s, 12 ex-servicemen formed the Armed Forces Pension Group to campaign against their lost money, which today has more than 2000 members.

John Stiff, a member of the group says: "I'm owed at least 51,000 and if you index link that, up to 75,000."

European Court

Richmonds solicitors have represented the group, since the initial application to the Bristol Employment Tribunal in September 1999, when they made a case against the Ministry of Defence for non-payment of pensions.

The proceedings ended when a separate case with similar issues was ruled against in the European Court and because of this, Richmonds began pursuing an action against the government in April this year instead.

One of their clients, Barry Keith explains: "I served six years and then took my option and left. At that time I had no idea I had no pension rights for that period."

The new proceedings issued in the High Court Queen's Bench Division will be served on the government within four months but Richmonds cannot say what the chances of success are, nor give a date when the case might finish.

Worse losses

Des Hamilton, technical director of the Pensions Advisory Service (OPAS) warns: "I would not be optimistic of their chances because there was no rule that gave them that entitlement."

He describes 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.

Mr Hamilton emphasises that these situations are "very widespread and illustrates the problem of people not talking their pensions seriously enough when they're younger.

"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."

He believes success is unlikely because a ruling in favour of this group would set a precedent for other companies to make pension back payments too - an additional cost they won't have planned for.

Joining fee

Members from all armed forces divisions and ranks, who left the service before 1 April 1975 can join the group for a fee of 285 through Richmonds Solicitors in Bristol.

The group is also open to previous employees of the civil service, other government or local government employment (including the police force) or private industry.

Richmonds admit that individuals may have to pay further fees as the case continues and there is no guarantee of a positive outcome.

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