A Personal Comment on the Demise of HOC46/2004 (February 2014)
The guidance contained in Home Office Circular 46/2004, which led a number of forces into inflicting draconian review procedures onto Injury on Duty pensions for ex officers, has been dead for some time but has now finally been declared unlawful and laid to rest. Early in 2012, the provisions relating to age related review and automatic reduction at the age of 65 were declared unlawful and withdrawn. Now, at the start of 2014, it is the turn of the age related provisions for ex officers who have reached Compulsory Retirement Age (CRA) to be declared unlawful and to be quashed.
It is almost a decade since this toxic guidance first raised it's head. Since those forces unleashed policies based on this guidance, pensioners have suffered, some very badly indeed with lives being ruined in some cases and the pensioner in this latest instance has lived in a nightmare since 2007. The fact that IOD pensions were restored two years ago to those pensioners aged 65 and over does not help those who have lost their homes, which in some instances were specially adapted to assist with particular disability. For so many, particularly the elderly and infirm, some in their final years, who were suddenly were deprived of a significant part of their income, how must they have regarded their former forces?
It is clearly apparent that this situation was inspired by a desire to save money and police forces were encouraged to hijack the review system to achieve this end. Fortunately, to their credit, there were a number of forces who refused to apply the guidance to their policies. Other forces pursued the drive to reduce IOD pensions with a vengeance.
The dangers inherent in our profession have always been recognised and regulated provision for those killed or injured in the course of their duties forms an essential part of the basis on which the police service can expect its members to be continually put in harms way. Regulations governing these aspects exist for the benefit of such officers, not for the financial benefit of unscrupulous police forces. Injured former officers have been treated in a contemptuous and arrogant manner by their forces. What has happened over the last few years is likely to be the work of people who will never have to face the proverbial “angry man in a dark alley” and will leave an indelible stain on the reputation of the service.
One only has to look at decisions made in the courts and by the Pensions Ombudsman to see the level of maladministration that has permeated the conduct of injury pensions in recent years. There are checks and balances built into the system, appeals, IRDP etc. which so often have been used as obstacles placed in the path of the pensioner rather than an effective, accessible method of redress they were intended to be. Efforts to obtain justice have been delayed, sometimes for years, by being forced to jump through these hoops. Pensioners have been only too aware that, in many cases, they would only achieve justice when their cases come under independent scrutiny of the courts or Pensions Ombudsman, but nevertheless they have had to go through the supposedly remedial processes dominated and controlled by the organisations who are responsible for the problem in the first place. In this latest case, that of Mr Slater, there are some very worrying aspects to the way he has been treated by his force.
If there are people within the police forces who have sympathised with our plight but have not had the power to overcome these excesses, perhaps it is now the time to step forward and assert themselves, take control of this and ensure that these sorry events are never repeated.
The review process is inherent within the Regulations and it must be conducted in an honest, fair and transparent manner. Sadly, it is seems likely that some forces might still try to use the review process to their advantage by adopting policies or protocols of their own devising – the Regulations permit some discretion in the timings of reviews but it should now be clear that forces need to avoid the temptation of novel policy confections or unfair manipulation of procedures.
The requirement for reviews at suitable intervals are part of the Regulations and it is important that such reviews are conducted in a fair, transparent, considerate and consistent fashion across all forces. Those forces should be very aware of the negative impact that the prospect of regular reviews can have on the health of the pensioner and many of us are continually reminded of the trauma of the events leading to our retirement, it is always present and the constant reminder of those events makes it difficult, if not impossible to move on. Furthermore, the prospect of continuing reviews into old age undermines financial security and means that the stress and anxiety never ends, this is not something that affects our colleagues who were fortunate to complete their police service without the burden of injury and this could never have been the intention of those who drafted the Regulations. Forces need to consider the health and welfare of their pensioners and agree on a point at which further reviews will cease, unless it is requested by the pensioner.
There is an urgent need for Police Forces to resolve the Injury on Duty Pensions issue. The guidance contained in Annex 'C' of HOC46/2004 resulted in appalling treatment of IOD pensioners and, instead of cutting expenditure, it has proved to be a monumental and very expensive mistake.
Forces should immediately restore and repay the pensions lost through unlawful reductions.
Forces will have to work very hard indeed to reassure existing IOD's that their future review processes are being conducted in a correct manner.
The independence and impartiality of the SMP is crucial to the review procedure and, sadly, in recent years, that essential independence and impartiality has been sacrificed in many cases. We can accept that the SMP's fees will fall to the police force but we will always question the integrity of any system where the SMP is making decisions on the basis of local policy rather than purely within the Regulations.
Pensioners have had to fight to defeat the Guidance of HOC46/2004 and the policies it engendered. There are matters still before the Courts arising from this fight and other issues are bound to arise that will require clarification.
Already before the demise of HOC46/2004 has been announced, one force has informed it's pensioners that it intends to recommence reviews in the coming months. The information provided suggests that the new policy will take us into new territory and will, if it fails to comply with Regulations, be certain to be vigorously opposed.