MP urges end to ‘scandal’ of trawler pensions

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MINISTERS will be urged to step in this week to finally end a “scandal” which has denied former trawlermen their money in retirement.

Hull Labour MP Alan Johnson will demand payments are now made to the final 57 men – who were told their pensions had already been paid out even though they claim to never have received a penny – after growing tired of the failure of the scheme operators to resolve the issue.

He will raise the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday in an effort to get Ministers to intervene – as well as calling for compensation for those who have been affected because of the “terrible” way the scheme has been operated.

“I’m just sick of it,” said Mr Johnson, MP for Hull West and Hessle.

“I want to bring this to an end now. Imagine if this had happened to solicitors or bankers, imagine it was their pensions that were being treated in this disgraceful way.

“But because it’s trawlermen - who’ve already been treated with contemptuous disregard – it was just such a casual approach to these men and their families. It’s a disgrace.”

Two years ago the Yorkshire Post revealed the latest problems faced by former trawlermen, many of whom worked out of Hull in the 1960s and 1970s but had not received their pensions because they had not been traced.

Trawlermen had to pay into the pension schemes before the industry’s decline in the 1970s, but it is thought the money was often paid through trawler companies, some of which no longer exist.

After pressure, a massive operation was launched by Aviva, the insurer and administrator of the Humber Fishermen’s Pension Scheme.

The initiative led to thousands of men or their families, many of them in Hull or the south bank of the Humber, being tracked down and millions of pounds paid out but in some cases the companies claimed the money had already been paid despite the men never having received it.

Mr Johnson met officials responsible for the pension scheme more than a year ago to try to resolve the situation, and asked them to pay out the remaining disputed claims several months ago.

About 57 cases remain unresolved, and Mr Johnson wants those resolved as well as calling for the £2.5m left in the scheme to be paid out to fishing communities.

He also says scheme members should be entitled to compensation for the problems they have endured, possibly of around £1,000 each, as a gesture.

“Since 2009 there’s been a real complacency about settling this,” said Mr Johnson.

“It’s been going round in legal circles and it ought to be brought to a head.”

Mr Johnson is able to raise the issue in the Commons now he has returned to the backbenches after quitting as Shadow Chancellor because of personal issues.

Meanwhile Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham is expected to travel to Hull next month as part of a fresh investigation into the trawlermen’s compensation scheme.

Mr Johnson and Grimsby Labour MP Austin Mitchell complained to her – four years after she issued a damning report into flaws in the Government scheme – because hundreds of men have still not received as much compensation as they should be entitled to.

After her first report, the Government launched a second scheme but tightened the rules on qualification which the MPs claim has unfairly penalised some men.

Mr Johnson said: “I’m very happy it’s a full investigation and I’m optimistic that Ann Abraham will agree her recommendations were not properly implemented by the Government.”

The battle for compensation started back in the early 1980s but a compensation scheme was only introduced in 2000, after years of campaigning.

In a critical report in 2008, the Public Accounts Committee said officials designing the complex scheme had made many of the same mistakes as the compensation scheme for sick miners, hundreds of whom also died without receiving their money. While thousands were paid promptly, some were left facing “long delays and frustration”, with payments four years after the deadline. The scheme was extended in 2009 to help people who missed out on thousands of pounds because of breaks in service.

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