|What Is The Forces Pension Society?|
Every month Pathfinder carries an article on Armed Forces pensions, provided by the Forces Pension Society (FPS). Reader research reveals these articles to be some of our most popular editorial. But what is FPS? Its Assistant General Secretary, Hugo Fletcher, explainsThe Forces Pension Society started life in 1946 when many ex regular service personnel found themselves on the streets with less than satisfactory pension arrangements.
So they formed a society to do something about it. In the words of the founders, it was an attempt “by a certain section of the community which has hitherto been content to leave its interests and welfare in the hands of the government to look after its own interests. The necessity of this has been brought about by the completely changed economic circumstances of this country and the realization that the Government in the past has not looked after the fighting services and there is no reason to suppose it will do so in the future.” In other words, the Society started life as a watchdog, expressly designed to look after the interests of Armed Forces pensioners.
It is the only independent organisation that has this as its primary function and although it is not a Trade Union, in many ways it fulfils the function of one. Today, the Society deals expressly with Armed Forces occupational pensions (the pension you earn as a result of your service) whilst the Royal British Legion leads on War Pensions and the Armed Forces Compensation scheme.
Hand in glove with the watchdog function goes pension expertise. To look after people’s pension interests you must understand the subject thoroughly, described in an early FPS journal as “the arcane chaos of Armed Forces pension regulations”. It is no longer chaotic, but it remains fully understood by few. And it has just become more complicated with the introduction of AFPS 15, as all those already serving before 1 April will now be entitled to at least two sets of pension benefits, which may pay out at different times; their new rights under AFPS 15 and their accrued rights under their previous schemes.
Enter the FPS Pensions Enquiry Service, which provides advice and guidance to members on their personal circumstances; from verifying the accuracy of their pensions forecasts to discussing such matters as how long they serve, the date on which it is best to retire (it can make a significant difference) whether to add to their pension, pension sharing on divorce, options open under the various pension schemes, implications of Full Time Reserve Service (FTRS), implications of the new Lifetime Allowance and indeed any other Armed Forces pension issue.
The Society won’t tell members what to do, but it will give them the facts and their implications - enabling them to make a rational, informed decision. This is the Society’s guide dog function, navigating its members safely through the minefield of decision-making that they all face at some stage in their career.
Added to these two core functions, the Society is both bloodhound and war dog. The former occurs when something has gone wrong on the pensions front, following a trail to get the matter rectified; this might range from a simple phone call to helping a member take a case to the Pensions Ombudsman. A recent example is provided by a member: “After showing my desk officer your email, Manning have accepted my early termination, making me £2,000 a year better off. Many thanks for the help and investigation.”
And of course, war dog is what happens when the government or MOD is not willing to rectify a problem; the Society will then campaign publicly for change. This occurred last year as a result of the Society’s Justice for Widows Campaign. Certain Armed Forces widows lost their Armed Forces pension on remarriage or cohabitation. FPS thought this unfair and outdated and it campaigned successfully for change. This is one of the reasons that FPS is a membership organisation and not a charity; it gives greater freedom of action when campaigning for change. FPS does however have charitable objectives, so it is like a charity but not a charity.
It would be wrong however to think that the society is always at odds with the government and the MOD. It is not. It tries to work with the grain of government; has a regular dialogue with both MOD and politicians; is asked for advice which is often taken, so many issues are headed off before they escalate. FPS is also an independent member of the MOD Pension Board, which aims to bring greater transparency and fairness to pension decision-making. There is a good day to day working relationship, albeit that the Society reserves the right to break cover when necessary.
So there you have it. The Forces Pension Society is a not for profit, independent membership organisation which campaigns for fair pensions for members of the Armed Forces, and gives advice to its members. It holds the government to account on its Armed Forces covenant pledge that: “pension schemes should be fair and appropriate to the particular circumstances of Service personnel”
It is a unique organisation, like a trade union but not a trade union, like a charity but not a charity, watchdog, guide dog, bloodhound and war dog, looking after the pensions interests of the Armed Forces community. If you need advice on your Armed Forces pension, you know where to come.
The Society is sometimes asked “why should I have to pay for your services”? The answer of course is that you don’t have to. You need not join. But if you don’t, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and assure yourself that you made decisions armed with the necessary knowledge to do so. It is like anything else. If you want expert advice, go to an expert. If you can find another one with the same depth and breadth of expertise about Armed Forces pension schemes, fill your boots. But 70 years of experience shows that you won’t. As a member recently told us “You brought light where others couldn’t after months of trying.” You can get some advice, sometimes from within your Service, but it will not be as detailed and it will not be independent.
You can try consulting the High Street, but beware, it will cost you a good deal and is very very unlikely to come with a detailed working understanding of the Armed Forces Pensions schemes, because they are unique. FPS deals with a steady stream of cases in which it tries to unpick poor decisions caused by Armed Service personnel consulting accountants or civilian pension advisers who gave them wrong advice because they did not fully understand the detail of Armed Forces pensions.
Membership of the Forces Pension Society costs £35 a year and allows you to source all the advice you need about your Armed Forces Pensions Scheme(s), not a lot when you consider the thousands of pounds involved – whatever your rank, and for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have made sensible decisions based on a thorough knowledge of the implications and alternatives.
Membership also offers a wide range of other benefits, ranging from free copies of the Society’s eclectic bi-annual Pennant magazine and a regular bi-monthly e-newsletter covering a miscellany of subjects, to special offers from FPS affiliate services. FPS’s affiliates offer discounts on travel and medical insurance, and tax, legal and financial services. Members often tell us that these discounts outweigh the membership fee. The Forces Pension Society has some 46,000 members.
You can join online by visiting www.ForcesPensionSociety.org and following the steps on our website. In the words of a member “Wonderful. Best £35 I’ve ever spent.” Go on, do it. You owe it to yourself.
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