Since the probation split, the number of members experiencing problems progressing Ill-Health Early Retirement (IHER) applications has grown significantly. There has been a particular problem in the NPS – one of the consequences of rushing the TR programme. These have been amplified by failings in their computerised shared-service centres ability to appreciate the differences between the local government scheme (LGPS) and the civil service scheme. However, there have also been some problems in CRC’s, especially where the LGPS is unfamiliar to HR leads and/or employers.
Napo AGS and pensions lead Dean Rogers explains, “The MoJ was recently criticised by the Courts in a case about their maladministration of the civil service IHER scheme. This was no surprise to us, as we’ve been in dispute about their inability to manage the LGPS scheme for over a year. Some cases have been shocking. It should normally take less than 12 weeks to progress an application from start to finish but we’ve had cases where it has taken the NPS longer than that to submit the application correctly; or to put the retirement in place after a successful assessment. The process for appealing a decision was also chaotic and subject to interference from their computers. The NPS processes were like something out of Monty Python or a Kafka play.”
He adds, “Many of the cases involve staff with recognised disabilities who’d been struggling to continue working for years. Most involved some aspect of work related stress… It is cruel to make these people fight for their rights and a fair process. Almost inevitably, through their employer’s incompetence, members have exhausted sick pay creating more stress and problems that remain to be resolved. However, it’s a relief that we’re starting to see things improve. Things got so bad the NPS had to park their denial, stop making excuses and start to work with us.”
With Napo’s advice and direction, the NPS processes and guidance for managers have been reviewed, streamlined and clarified. The implementation is now being jointly monitored. Computer interference can be challenged immediately via an NPS pensions’ point-guard – a new post that Napo argued for, including when challenging Ministers directly about the NPS maladministration.
The number and range of problems encountered means Dean has established numerous contacts right across the GMPF, who administer the LGPS for probation. This is proving helpful, with some HR leads now coming to us first, to ask their question and give them a clear answer quicker than if they went straight to the GMPF.
Dean adds, “We have had some really good recent outcomes for members as a result of the improvements and working together with employers. It’s increasingly accepted that pensions is a blind spot for managers and extra help and support is needed with difficult and potentially expensive IHER applications. Napo is part of this support for both employers and members. There are still challenges. For example, the Ombudsman’s appeal process is also very bureaucratic and demanding for members who by circumstance are bound to find such processes difficult. But we’ve started a new chapter of what has been, up to now, a proper horror story.”