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Home arrow Resettlement arrow Personal Finance arrow Your Widow Will Be Condemned To A Life Of Solitude - Writing To Your MP Could Help
Your Widow Will Be Condemned To A Life Of Solitude - Writing To Your MP Could Help PDF Print E-mail

Many in the armed forces are unaware of a rule in their pension plan which causes a great deal of misery

The rule is in the small print of the AFPS 75 Scheme, the pension scheme the majority of Service personnel are on. It states that if a widow remarries or “cohabits”, i.e. lives with a man as husband and wife, she must give up her pension. Here’s what happens...

Camilla met her husband Simon at the age of 26 and married at 28. He was in the RAF and dedicated to his work with high tech aircraft. She was a medic with the Territorial Army. Soon after they married, the family was completed by the arrival of their son Joseph. They were very happy. 

In 2003 life changed for them dramatically. Simon, then a Chief Tech, was diagnosed with a terminal disease. The diagnosis was devastating news - leaving the family with no sight of the future they had planed after retirement.

Although Simon was in a wheelchair and paralysed, he was still able to work in a desk job with the RAF. He died in 2007 at the age of 44, surrounded by Camilla, then 42 and James, then 16.

The funeral was in the holidays when James was at home from boarding school. At the time he was with the School Army Cadet Force and a pall bearer at the funeral along side friends from the Army and RAF. She has vivid memories of the final moments when James picked up his father’s cap, medals and wreath, saluted his father, turned and marched to sit by Camilla’s side during the service. Simon’s ashes have since been scattered in the Highlands.

A few years later, Camilla met someone with whom she would have been very happy, but on telling him of the widow’s pension and how she would lose it if she cohabited or married, he decided that he could not be responsible for her loss of her income. The issue led to the breakup of their relationship.

From this experience, she became very reluctant to start another relationship and she also fears losing another person, which would happen if she were effectively forced to walk away at the point of wanting to take a new romance forward. "Couples days like Christmas, Valentines Day and birthdays are particularly painful”, she says, as they emphasise her predicament - leaving her with a feeling of isolation and dread of a normal relationship with a man.

Simon and Camilla discussed the possibility of one day meeting another partner. He gave his blessing, which makes her feel doubly cheated. "I feel I was privileged to have been able to look after Simon. All I ask is that I and other widows are not left out of the warmth of a loving man’s heart; nor should we feel the dread of giving up a large part of our income".
Camilla fears the situation of meeting a man who would like a relationship. She doesn’t avoid social contact; in fact the very opposite is true; however, she does avoid the next step. As a result of this she holds men at arm’s length.

The FPS has long had deep sympathy for women facing Camilla’s predicament. It has campaigned for years, mostly with discreet lobbying behind the scenes, to persuade the government to allow Service widows to keep their pensions. This had resulted in sympathetic support from one Veterans Minister after another however, last December, the Society received a definitive refusal from government to act in this matter.

The FPS was surprised to receive this in the same week that the government presented its annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant to parliament, a report that highlighted the difficulties that Forces wives have in getting jobs. It is this difficulty that is at the heart of the debate, because it means that Service wives also find it difficult to accrue their own pensions.

This in turn makes Forces widows more reliant on their widows pensions. This is therefore squarely an Armed Forces Covenant issue – not about making service widows better off than others, but stopping them from being worse off. As the government’s Armed Forces Covenant booklet says “Pension schemes should be fair and appropriate to the particular circumstances of Service personnel.” 

As such FPS does not accept that any changes would “read-across” to the rest of the public sector. In any event, to suggest that it would implies that all such schemes are identical in this respect; this is not and never has been the case. As for the cost of changing the rules, this is negligible. It is of course not wholly predictable because no one knows how many widows will voluntarily surrender their pensions in any given year; previous work had costed this saving at £250,000 a year, but the figures for 2013 provided by the government show that only £31,294.00 was saved in that year through the surrender of pensions, and of course against these savings must be set the ongoing costs of verification and enforcement of the rules, which despite several Freedom of Information requests have not been forthcoming.

Unsurprisingly, a large number of Forces widows who become aware of this pension rule make the decision to remain single, with the result that the government does not seize much money and many Forces widows are condemned to a life of solitude, punished when they are at their most vulnerable by an arcane rule which treats them as chattels. 

For those widows affected, the unfairness is amplified because not all Forces widows are subject to the same rules. The source of the difference is the small print of their former husband’s pension scheme, hardly detail they could be expected to know. However, this rule does not apply to members of the most recent forces pension scheme and neither does it apply to widows of troops killed in action.

As most Forces widows are not affluent, few can afford to surrender their pensions (instead they have no choice but to remain single). The amount of money the government is actually confiscating is a tiny sum, less than £3,000 a year on average and unnoticeable against the defence budget. FPS points out that if the government changed the rules to allow all service widows to keep their pensions, it would not lose out as much as it suggests because it would also save the cost of carrying out the deeply unpleasant task of seeking out and investigating widows who it suspects of having clandestine new relationships.

Now the MP, Katy Clarke has taken up the cause and has put down an Early Day Motion (EDM 1157) in Parliament calling for change. By the time this article was written, the motion had received 59 signatures from MPs of all parties, but will remain alive until the end of the parliamentary session on 23 July – so there is plenty of time for others to support it. The EDM won’t on its own force change, and it is important to understand that it is happening in tandem with other actions, but it does act as a focal point and enable you to participate, by lobbying your MP.

The FPS points out that the majority of Service families could be affected but most do not realise it. Husbands do not think about what happens to their pension if they die first and their wife remarries and women recently widowed don’t think about a new relationship. The misery occurs only when a widow meets someone new.

The FPS is very keen to hear from anyone affected by this rule and it is appealing to the whole Armed Forces community to write to their MPs to ask them to sign EDM No. 1157, because the more signatures it receives, the more pressure there will be on government to change. Nowadays, this is very straightforward as a simple internet search will bring up the name and email address of your local MP.

In 2011, the Prime Minister stated: “We made a promise to do more for our Armed Services and to put the Military Covenant at the heart of our national life. Today we are delivering on that promise - the principles of the Covenant are now part of the law of our land and the value we place on our Armed Forces is clear for all to see. We must now live up to these obligations”. Exactly.

If you would like to know more about the Forces Pension Society or the Justice for Widows campaign, please visit www.ForcesPensionSociety.org  or call 020 7840 9988

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