Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 16:40 UK

Injured firefighters in court win

Firefighters often face dangerous situations

Injured firefighters have won a major step in their legal battle to retain the right to claim ill-health pensions.

The Court of Appeal agreed with London firemen Martin Marrion, Neil Burke and Andrew Scott that leaving them with neither a job nor a pension was unfair.

Changes to the fire service's pension scheme in 2006 meant some injured staff would not receive pensions even if there was no suitable job for them.

Court of Appeal judges said the three test cases must now be reconsidered.

The Firefighters' Pension Scheme's 2004 guidelines stated that a disabled or badly injured firefighter would receive an ill-health pension unless they could be redeployed to a job within his or her role.

But changes introduced in September 2006 meant that if a member of the service was capable of doing a small part of his or her work, they would not qualify for a pension even if a suitable job was not available.

'Shifting sands'

Although the government has since issued fresh guidance reverting back to the 2004 position, its lawyers have continued to argue in favour of the disputed 2006 rules during the court battle.

Lawyers for the three men, who are backed by the Fire Brigades' Union, argued these rules effectively made it impossible for any firefighter to qualify for an ill-health pension even if they were seriously disabled.

If there was no job to which they could be redeployed, the new rules forced fire authorities to sack injured staff without financial support, they said.

We now call on the government to urgently redraft the guidance to restore ill-health pensions to firefighters unable to work due to injury or disability
Martin Marrion

Lord Justice Rix, sitting in London with Lord Justice Dyson and Lord Justice Wilson, said the arguments put forward on behalf of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government were "built on shifting sands".

The government's case remained "deeply unattractive" and where a firefighter was unfit for work and could not be redeployed it led to "no job, no pension consequence", he said.

"This is both unfair and surprising in terms of an amendment which was designed to introduce flexibility and to save both firemen and their employers from the necessity of ill-health retirement where there was still a job of work to be done," he added.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the three men against the Boards of Medical Referees, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the secretary of state.

Their cases will now be reconsidered.

Retrospective payment

After the hearing, Mr Marrion said: "I wanted to keep on working but my employers forced me to retire and take an ill-health pension. I was astonished that, nearly two years later, they took my ill-health pension off me.

"I am hugely relieved that the Court of Appeal has backed our case, but angry that we had to fight so far to get our pensions back."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union, said the ruling was a "tremendous victory" for common sense.

"We now call on the government to urgently redraft the guidance to restore ill-health pensions to firefighters unable to work due to injury or disability," he said.

"It must make that re-drafted guidance retrospective to restore pensions to any of our members who have already lost them."

The Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement that the government welcomed the Court of Appeal's "clarification of the intentions" underlying the pension scheme's ill-health arrangements.

"This outcome is an endorsement of the government's position, that was clearly stated by the then fire minister [Parmjit Dhanda] in Parliament over a year ago that it was never the government's intention for an injured firefighter not to receive an appropriate award or to be left with no job or recompense," he said.

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