Pension cutbacks rebound on police budgets

David Crompton
David Crompton
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Police face huge compensation bills after unlawfully cutting the pensions of some retired officers in a bid to save money, with Yorkshire’s largest force expected to be the most severely affected in the country.

West Yorkshire Police has already settled, at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds, with four officers who were forced to retire after being injured on duty and later had their pensions reduced.

Campaigners believe the deal could open the floodgates for hundreds of other retired officers to claim back money, piling more pressure on forces already confronted with deep budget cuts.

It affects police authorities, including West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, who have adopted controversial Home Office guidance encouraging them to slash spending on injury pensions.

The four retired West Yorkshire officers took their former police authority to court, claiming it was wrong to cut their payments after they had reached the age of 65.

A judge sitting at the Administrative Court in Leeds gave them permission to seek a judicial review, but the authority agreed to settle before the case could be heard.

One retired officer, former sergeant Dennis Clarkson, said: “I was injured while serving my community and lost my career and my income as a result.

“I was appalled that my police authority, like other police authorities the length and breadth of the nation, has used unlawful guidance from the Home Office to reduce the pensions of former serving officers. I hope that other former officers and police authorities sit up and take notice.”

Ron Thompson, a York-based solicitor who represented the retired officers, said he had seen cases where claimants’ incomes had been cut by more than £10,000 a year.

“Police authorities should be contacting all the pensioners they have reviewed in this manner and see if they want to sort it out,” he added. “There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of injured ex-officers in this country who have had their pensions reduced unlawfully.”

The Home Office guidance was introduced in 2004 in an attempt to standardise the injury pension process, but fewer than half of the 43 forces in England and Wales have adopted it and each has interpreted it differently.

Clint Elliott, chief executive of the National Association of Retired Police Officers, said it had received more complaints about injury pension reviews in West Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country.

He added: “We have been writing to the police authority and the Chief Constable on this subject for three or four years, pointing out that they were wrong. If they had listened four years ago they would not be in the position they are now. This must have cost a fortune. What originally was meant to be a money-saving venture is going to blow up in their faces.”

West Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable David Crompton said the guidance meant “some very difficult and emotive choices” had to be made.

“Nevertheless we do not believe that this court ruling represents a precedent which will result in a wide ranging review of all these cases and in the context of the force having to save over £100m in the next four years we believe that the taxpayers will understand our approach,” he said.

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said it had reviewed the entitlements of a “small number” of over-65s in the past but had halted reviews to wait for revised guidance from the Home Office, due next year.