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70 Years Of Campaigning For Forces Pensions PDF Print E-mail

This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Forces Pension Society, founded early in 1946, in the aftermath of The Second World War as a watchdog and campaign group, to look after the interests of Armed Forces pensioners...

It was a time of austerity, the Armed Forces were shrinking rapidly as the nation returned to a peacetime footing and many regular servicemen felt that they had been treated badly.

In particular, in 1946 those who retired between 1919 and December 1945 were on a retired pay code established in 1919 which in 1935 had been cut by 9.5%. Furthermore, there were no widows pensions as of right, they had to be claimed and were all means tested.

A group of officers therefore formed a Society to do something about it. The remit of the Society was broad: “to promote in every way the interests and welfare of members and former members of the Armed Forces”. It was at that time an officer only organisation, The Officers’ Pension Society, but it always campaigned on behalf of all ranks. Its staff were all unpaid volunteers and its premises were lent free of charge.

In its early days the Society was regarded with deep suspicion by the powers that be, who perceived it as being very close to a Trade Union. This was one of the reason that membership of the Society was originally only open to ex- officers and their dependants, serving officers were not allowed to join, although their wives (who could not be prevented from joining) were. Over the years, the rules were changed; officers were eventually allowed by the MOD to join if over the age of 50 or in their last two years of service and finally, all servicemen and their dependants became eligible, whether serving or retired. This remains the case today.

Over the years, the Society has achieved much, sometimes campaigning openly and publicly, sometimes working behind the scenes. its first success was in 1950 when a new pensions code was introduced; in 1954 a 10% increase was awarded which went a long way to restoring the cut of 1935; a further improvement occurred in 1956 and in 1958 widows pensions were increased to one third –This theme of seeking steady improvement by lobbying, campaigning, tabling parliamentary questions and initiating debates continued through until 1973, when a modern pensions structure that we recognise today was put in place, with widows pensions being raised to one half.

And so it has continued ever since, an ongoing campaign to ensure fairness and where possible steady improvement to reflect changing conditions and modern best practice, moving with the times and taking proper account of the unique nature of military service. The Society can legitimately claim to have had a hand in many of the improvements to pensions that have taken place since; helping initiate the debate on post retirement widows pensions which led to changes in the 1975 Social Security Act, driving the new allowances for war widows in the 1980s and persistent lobbying in the nineties and early noughties to improve proposals for a new pensions scheme.

The eventual model that emerged in 2006 (AFPS 05) was significantly improved by FPS input, and indeed delayed in its introduction because the House of Commons Defence Committee insisted that the MOD take account of them. These included the introduction of measures to lessen the impact of pensions troughs, an increase in the widows pension to over 60% and the commencement of a common pension starting point from date of entry into the Forces. More recently, in 2014 the Society’s campaign to ensure that no Armed Forces widows would lose their pensions on remarriage was also successful.

The relationship with both MOD and Government has changed over the years. Initially the Society was regarded as enemy forces, to be kept at arms length at all costs. But both MOD and government have come to recognise that many years of experience in this area brings with it a reputation for expertise and probity, and when we do fire a salvo, although it may not be welcome, at least those on the receiving end understand that there is a good reason for it; we are therefore listened to and very often our comments are acted upon.

This year we have been engaged in identifying anomalies in pension payments to commissioned warrant officers, a systemic problem which we identified and are getting rectified, and making suggestions for improving some of the MOD’s forms and processes for the benefit of the user. 

We see ourselves as watchdog, scrutinising the powers that be and ensuring fair play and consistency, a role we perform day in day out, and wardog, openly campaigning for change when rules are patently unfair. This benefits the whole Armed Forces community – not just members.

But increasingly, people are joining us as members because they want to find out more about their Armed Forces pensions, to understand the options open to them. Against a national backdrop of uncertainty, with the state pension age rising to 67 and possibly beyond, and private employers paying less generous pensions than previously, service personnel want to know more and to understand exactly what they are worth in pension terms.

The story for the most part remains a good one, but understanding it has become increasingly complex. This is our guide dog role, taking our members through their entitlement and explaining its implications, because for many people it just became more complicated. With the introduction of AFPS 15, most of the current serving community now has two pension entitlements, some, with broken service have three, some even have four; different entitlements paying out at different times, entailing different choices. 

This is a growth area for us. We cannot make decisions for you about whether or when to leave, whether or not to commute, whether or not to divorce, what we can do is load up the scales so that you can make an informed decision about your future based on a proper understanding of the implications. And the implications can be huge. Pensions are very valuable. They are about your future. Making the right choices for you and your family is important, as is knowing that you are getting your correct entitlement and whether you can increase it. 

The MOD has done a good deal to lead you to water; the introduction of the on line pension calculator, the right to get an annual written pensions forecast, the introduction last year of the Benefit Information Statement are all moves in the right direction. But the pension calculator is not foolproof, it is only a guide and comes with a disclaimer, the annual pensions forecast does not talk back to you, and the Benefit Information Statement is not a forecast, it is a snapshot whose main purpose is to prompt you to take an interest in your pension. 

Nevertheless many don’t; Veterans UK is currently trying to trace several thousand Armed Forces veterans so as to pay them their preserved pension; sometimes the problem is the lack of a current address, but in some cases it is because the potential recipient simply doesn’t know they are entitled because they never took an interest. 

So the message these days is very clear. Take an interest in your Armed Forces Pension. Understand what you are entitled to. Understand what your options are. Seize control of your destiny. The Forces Pension Society is here to help. We have been doing it for 70 years. 

Further Information

If you want to know more, or need specific advice about your own circumstances and choices go to www.ForcesPensionSociety.org  
In the words of a recent customer “I wish I had found out about the Society before now. Thank goodness I have.”

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