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Who we are
The Pension Action Group (PAG) is a loose association of individuals who are concerned about the loss of pension rights which has taken place since 1997 when company schemes have been wound up short-funded, unable to meet their obligations. For most memmbers, this interest resulted from the personal experience of losing some or all of their own pension rights, often accumulated over 40 years or more. Others, having seen the injustices we had suffered, felt that they could not just stand by and watch it happen and so joined in putting their shoulders to the wheel. We have no corporate members, major sponsors or other affiliations.
There is a Yahoo! email group which distributes email messages between members, and membership of PAG is actually defined as being a member of the group. There are no subscriptions, membership cards or initiation rites and you can cancel your membership at any time by leaving the email group. New members can just dive in and join the conversation.
Joining is easy: just send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org to start receiving group emails. Leaving just as easy: send an email to email@example.com and you will be removed automatically.
How we started
The origin of the Pensions Action Group goes back to 2002, when Allied Steel and Wire collapsed into insolvency. Its employees, at plants in Sheerness and Cardiff discovered that they had not only lost their jobs but that there was also not enough money to pay for the pensions which they had saved for, and which they had been promised by Government would be safe, whatever happened to their employer. They decided not to take this lying down, and formed PAG, rapidly discovering that they were not alone and that companies up and down the country were closing their doors, leaving their pension schemes short-funded. So the membership was widened to allow any members of insolvent company pension schemes to join and this was later further widened to include schemes from solvent employers who had closed their schemes without adequate funding.
The BBC took an interest and sent a crew down to South Wales to learn first hand about their plight and to cover it on Panorama, which aired in November 2002 (transcript here). To get the wider picture, they brought along a pensions expert, Dr Ros Altmann, who was horrified by the stories of financial loss and injustice that she heard and who decided to help them in their campaign on a pro bono basis.
Months of organising activity followed, supported by Ros and the MP for the Sheerness area, Derek Wyatt. This culminated in a meeting in Portcullis House, Westminster in September of the following year, which was widely publicised in the press and media and which resulted in many new members from a wide range of schemes joining the campaign. This really kicked off the campaigning activity of the group, with many public demonstrations over many years outside Parliament, 10 Downing Street, the Treasury, outside party conferences and at pensions industry meetings. The infamous 'stripped of our pensions' demonstration originated at this time, which involved a line of (apparently) naked pensioners behind an appropriately placed banner. (This was done with joke shorts bought from party shops, and public decency was maintained at all times!) A flavour of the activity can be found on our gallery page.
How far we have come
Maybe one day someone will write a history of the battles which had to be fought in order to get the FAS and PPF established, with Government fighting back every step of the way. This would be a very long page indeed if we were to tell the full story here, so here are some of the milestones:
- Demonstrations - The first of many 'stripped of our pensions' demonstrations took place in September 2003 outside the Labour party conference in Bournemouth, and demonstrations continued outside all of the party conferences for many years.
- Building Parliamentary support - In parallel with the demonstrations, slowly and painstakingly we made contact with more and more MPs and persuaded them of the justice of our case.
- Pensions Protection Fund - The PPF was introduced in 2005 to provide protection for members of schemes which were affected by insolvency of their sponsoring employer. It did not however cover schemes which started to wind up before that date.
- FAS Mk1 - The initial version of the FAS was launched in September 2005. This only provided for 80% of a member's 'core' pension, and only for members who were within three years of their normal retirement date, with a £12,000 p.a. cap. It was much less generous than the PPF.
- Early Day Motions - No fewer than four Early Day Motions were deposited in the House of Commons by supportive MPs:
- 8 Nov 2005 - EDM 980 (Danny Alexander): 77 signatures
- 17 Nov 2006 - EDM106 (Philip Hammond): 154 signatures
- 22 Nov 2006 - EDM 241 (Tony Wright): 279 signatures
- 25 Jan 2007 - EDM 749 (Julie Morgan): 99 signatures
- 23 Feb 2007 - EDM 969 (Tony Wright): 226 signatures
- 8 Feb 2018 - EDM 927 (Jonathan Edwards): 16 signatures
- Parliamentary Ombudsman - A cross-party group of MPs submitted a complaint on behalf of 200 victims of pension loss. She launched a full-scale enquiry and produced a damning report, in which she found the Government to be guilty of maladministration and advocated for increased compensation. Most unusually, this was rejected by the Minister.
- High Court Action - In response to the rejection, some brave PAG members took the Government to the High Court, for a judicial review of their decision. They won the case, but the Government appealed, threatening the litigants with costs if they lost. In spite of the risk and the appalling stress, they continued and won the appeal.
- The Robins case - The unions Amicus and Community took the DWP to court to challenge their provision for failed company pension schemes. The case went all the way to the European Court of Justice and the ruling in early 2007 set the benchmark that Government should not allow pension payments to fall below 50% of the original entitlement for insolvent schemes.
- Lifeboat fund - In order to address the differences between the PPF and FAS levels of payment, the House of Lords voted to add an amendment to the 2007 pensions bill that would create a fund from which uprated FAS payments could be drawn. The money was to have been initially raised from a Treasury loan, to be repayed by liquidating unclaimed assets such as bank accounts. It was however defeated in the House of Commons.
- FAS Mk 2 - The FAS in more-or-less its current form was announced in December 2007. It gave broad parity with the PPF and allowed the Government to take over the remaining assets of insolvent schemes.
- Checking the details - After the announcement, the regulations and legislation required to introduce the revised scheme rumbled on for over a year, during which time PAG continued to make representations and suggest improvements.
- Continuing campaign - The revised FAS did not by any means give us the whole of the pension we had been promised, and the lack of scheme-level indexation in particular was a concern. We therefore continued to campaign, to meet with ministers and to lobby MPs. We also helped support individual members with specific issues, particularly with regard to the DWP clawing back overpayments.
- Continuing legal action - PAG continued to keep the possibility of further legal action under review, and liaised with other groups who were themselves taking action. We were delighted therefore when a group of early retirees won their case in the European Court of Justice in September 2019, which resulted in the PPF (and hence the FAS) having to meet a minimum of 50% of each individual member's original entitlement, thus removing some of the worst effects of limited indexation and the cap. The Government's handling of this is subject to an ongoing judicial review with a judgement expected in summer 2019.
How we are governed
The governing body of the group is the 'Notch meeting', which is open to all members. These meetings are called on an as-needed basis, and the meetings are well publicised on the email group. Decisions taken by a simple majority at the meeting are considered to be binding on the group although, as it is a purely voluntary organisation, those voting in favour of an action tend to be those who are tasked with making it happen!
The Notch meetings can only happen a few times a year because of the difficulties and costs of travel and yet decisions need to be taken on a day-to-day basis. There is therefore an 'Inner Notch' group, usually composed of 3 or 4 of the most active and enthusiastic members, or those with special skills, who are nominated and confirmed at each Notch meeting. They handle press and media enquiries, liaison with government departments and with other campaigning groups, all within the general guidelines set by the Notch Meeting. At each meeting they report back formally on their activities since the previous meeting.
As a volunteer-based organisation, no one is (or can be) compelled to do anything, so there is no command structure as found in, for instance, commercial companies. Decisions are taken on a consensus basis and this generally proceeds amicably, although there can be a lot of talking needed along the way!
How we are financed
PAG is financed by small individual voluntary contributions from its members and external sympathisers. Our finances are healthy at the moment and we are not seeking donations. When individuals take part in activities on behalf of the group, they generally pay their own expenses, but we do reimburse receipted expenses when they are substantial or in case of need. If funds should become short, we will notify the membership and invite donations. We undertake political campaigning so are not eligible for charitable status. We have a treasurer who reports on the financial position and details all outgoings at each Notch meeting.
Current focus and activities
PAG is not in full-on campaigning mode at the moment, as we are waiting on developments in both Government planning and possible court judgements. Our main focus for the time being is on the following:
- Liaison with the FAS/PPF - We have a good relationship with the PPF secretariat (who administer the PPF) and are in continual contact with them, to keep a watch on the way in which changes to the FAS are being rolled out and to provide our own insight into ways in which our members interests might best be served.
- Liaison with DWP - The Minister for Pensions continues to refuse to meet with us, despite our repeated offers of constructive assistance in ensuring that current planned changes take full account of the end-user's perspective. We are alert for ways in which we might persuade him to change his mind.
- Political pressure - We are grateful for the support which we receive from MPs in parliament and in regional government. We will, in particular continue to work closely with the Assembly Members in Wales who have provided sterling support for their citizens in Cardiff.
- Court cases - We are not currently involved directly in any court cases, but we continue to monitor their progress closely, and are prepared to jump in if the need arises and it is felt to be in our members' interests.
- Overpayments - There have been a number of cases where overpayments have been made by the FAS and the money has been demanded back even though it would cause hardship. We are also fighting the practice of making a permanent deduction to a member's FAS payments, which means that the deductions may continue long after the original overpayment has been paid back.
Our primary aim is the same as it always has been, to get our pensions paid in full. That is what we were promised, that is what we paid for, and that is what the government encouraged us to do while hiding the risks.
However, we recognise that the longest journey is comprised of individual steps so we will also continue to engage with Government departments and agencies to help them to effect their plans in the way which provides the best outcome for our members and to encourage them to make improvements where they can.
Much depends on the outcome of ongoing legal challenges being brought by others, so our actions will depend to a great extent on the way in which Government responds. So far, the reaction appears to be positive, with the PPF working to meet the requirements imposed by the European Court of Justice, although we are concerned at the slow pace of roll-out.
We will also continue to work with members of Parliament and of the regional assemblies in order to build some political consensus around improving the FAS and PPF, and we are very appreciative of the support we have received so far.
In summary, we will continue to represent the interests of members of the FAS and PPF and seek to get the best outcomes possible for them.