Clause 11 - Public service pension schemes: rectification of unlawful discrimination

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 14 December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The clause allows for regulations to be made to address the tax impacts of the remedy to the unlawful age discrimination that arose from the 2015 public service pension reforms. The Government reformed most public service pensions in 2015, but excluded those closest to retirement from the reforms. The court found that that exclusion amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of age. That is known as the McCloud case.

Following consultation, the Government are introducing a remedy to rectify that discrimination, which affects about 3 million people. The remedy includes options for them to choose at retirement what type of pension rights they will receive for the remedy period. The remedy period covers the years between 2015 and 2022, with an exception for the judiciary, who will instead make their choice in 2022. That was decided following consultation with the sector.

Most of the legislation required to implement the remedy is contained in the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill, which is progressing through the Commons. However, where those changes mean that the Government will provide individuals with different historical pension rights, changes to pension tax legislation are also required. The purpose of clause 11 is therefore to allow the Government to make regulations to put the individual, as far as possible, in the tax position in which they would have been had the discrimination never happened. It also ensures that regulations can be put in place to address the tax impacts of the public service pensions remedy on the employers and those responsible for the tax affairs of the pension schemes.

I mentioned that the legislation implementing the remedy is going through Parliament. Once it is finalised, the Government will use the power in clause 11 to draft regulations that will provide for the tax changes needed as part of our move to rectify the discrimination. For example, the Government will use the power to ensure that compensation payments payable as a result of the remedy can be made tax free, as they are calculated on that basis under the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill.

The Government will also use the power in clause 11 to ensure that pensions and lump sums payable as a result of the remedy that would have been authorised payments had they been made at the relevant time are treated as meeting the conditions to be authorised. One further example is that members may choose benefits for the period 2015 to 2022 that lead to a significant increase in their pension accrual in a single tax year. Without a change to legislation, that could result in individuals paying more tax than if the pension that they ultimately chose had accrued annually.

The Government will use the power in clause 11 to make good the tax treatment of those affected by the remedy set out in the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill. Regulations made under the power will ensure that, broadly, those affected will be in the tax position that they would have been in had they not suffered discrimination. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

As we have heard from the Minister, clause 11 relates to public service pension schemes and the rectification of unlawful discrimination. It provides the Treasury with the power to make regulations to address the tax impacts that arise in consequence to or in connection with the rectification of unlawful discrimination set out in part 1 of what is expected to become the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Act 2022. Those changes will have effect on or after 6 April 2022, and are capable of having retrospective effect.

As we are aware, when reformed public service pension schemes were introduced in 2014-15, the Government agreed, following discussions with trade unions, to allow active members of pre-existing public service pension schemes who were close to retirement to remain in those schemes, rather than requiring them to start to accrue pension benefits in a new scheme. That was called transitional protection. In December 2018, the Court of Appeal found in what is known as the McCloud judgment that the transitional protection unlawfully discriminated against younger members of the judicial and firefighter pension schemes, and gave rise to indirect sex and race discrimination.

On 15 July 2019, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Elizabeth Truss, made a written ministerial statement setting out that the Government considered that the Court of Appeal’s judgment had implications for all public service pension schemes, and planned to introduce proposals to remedy the discrimination across the schemes. On 19 July 2021, the Government introduced the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill. The provisions of part 1 of that Bill will apply retrospectively, to provide a remedy for the discrimination. The rectification affects individuals who were members of a public service pension scheme on or before 31 March 2012 and at any time between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2022, and so had pensionable service during that time.

Under chapter 1 of part 1 of Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill, individuals who were moved to a new scheme will be retrospectively returned to their previous scheme for the period of remediable service. Any member with remediable service will be able to choose to receive pension scheme benefits based on the rules of either the legacy scheme or the new scheme, although for most individuals there will be no significant change in the tax position. The legislation will provide the Treasury with the power to make regulations that make the necessary changes to tax legislation so that, as far as possible, individuals can be put in the position in which they would have been, absent the discrimination. We will therefore not oppose the clause.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s indication that he will not oppose the clause, and have nothing further to add.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.