This page has been developed to give informal guidance to FRAs and administrators during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This page will continue to be updated with relevant news, information and links throughout the current challenging situation.
Scheme Advisory Board (SAB) and committee meetings are currently suspended, however, the chair will continue to meet virtually with the secretariat to ensure support for the scheme, and contact with relevant government departments is maintained. The secretariat remains available at home by mobile, email or video (MS Teams or Skype for Business) as detailed on the contacts page.
The following information has been prepared by LGA to give some guidance on the rules of the pension scheme using the regulations as they stand at March 2020, however they should be used only as an informal view of the interpretation of the firefighters' pension scheme as only a court can provide a definitive interpretation of legislation. This information should not be interpreted as legal advice, and FRAs should consider taking legal advice as they see fit.
The Government Actuary's Department (GAD) have provided the following statement on their expectations on when the valuation data will be requested, confirming that the expected timeline will give administrators until 31 December 2020 to complete the data request.
“In order to spread the work on processing and checking the valuation data GAD have divided the public sector pension schemes into clusters, each of which has a different date when we expect the data to be returned. Both Fire England and Police England & Wales fall into the second cluster which has a date of 31 December 2020 for expected delivery of data.
We will hopefully be sending out the data collection tool and user guides in May which will allow administrators to see the format we expect the data to be returned in (very similar to prior years) which should help them plan the collection exercise. If the tool is delivered in May that will give administrators 7 months to prepare and return the data.
Note that the release of the data tool is not an indication to administrators that we need it completed and returned immediately and we will communicate the timeframes when we provide the tool. However, given current circumstances it may be reassuring for the Home Office to communicate to administrators the 31 December deadline which may help to relieve some worries they currently have.
We are continuing to monitor the situation surrounding COVID-19 and work required during and after the lockdown period and will update timelines if it becomes necessary.”
Further to the above statement, the final 2020 valuation data specifications were emailed to administrators and software providers on 3 June 2020. GAD are still working on the data collection spreadsheet and instructions, which should be issued in the next couple of weeks.
GAD have provided a further update on the valuation process. They have commented that they are close to being in a position to provide Fire administrators with the 2020 valuation data collection spreadsheet. Please note, due to the size of the spreadsheet, GAD will be providing this to pension administrators via a secure transfer area instead of a completely open link.
The guidance which will accompany the valuation data collection spreadsheet will also provide an email address for administrators to use should additional access be required between now and the data being submitted later in the year.
For the firefighters scheme, there are two separate issues that need to be resolved to allow staff to return to work without it impacting on their pensions.
Protected Pension Age
The impact of the Finance Act 2004 on retired firefighters from FPS 1992 only with a protected pension age (retired from the FPS 1992 before the age of 55) and who are subsequently re-employed. Further information can be found in the protected pension age factsheet.
We can confirm that HMT has agreed that the temporary relaxation of the tax rules as detailed in written statement HCWS196 and the HMRC guidance in their April 2020 newsletter applies across the public sector and does include Fire and Rescue if people are returning to roles as a result of COVID-19. That means that the re-employment conditions as set out in rule 7F of the Finance Act 2004 will be considered to have been met where re-employment is directly connected to undertake work related to COVID-19 only, and the member will not lose their protected pension age and be subject to unauthorised payment tax on their pension and lump sum as a result. This relates to the tax position only and does not impact upon general break in service requirements for other purposes.
On 2 June 2020 HMT/HMRC announced an extension to the easement of the tax rules relating to PPA. The deadline has been extended to 1 November 2020 for retired firefighters re-employed in relation to FRAs' response to the coronavirus pandemic. Please see the announcement in the amended HMRC pension schemes newsletter 119 - April 2020, under heading 1.a.
HMT have confirmed that the effect of the statement is that anyone re-employed between 1 March and the deadline would be deemed as having satisfied the re-employment conditions, regardless of how long the employment lasted.
New Clause 20: Protected pension age of members employed as a result of coronavirus has been inserted at Report Stage of the Finance Bill 2020 and introduces a new re-employment condition to paragraph 22(7F) of Schedule 36 to the Finance Act 2004.
HMRC have published a tax information and impact note which explains more about these changes.
We recommend that the reasons for re-employment being COVID-19 related are clearly documented and shared with your Local Pension Board.
The ability to waive the requirement for the FRS to pay into the notional pension fund if they exercise their discretion not to abate. This is a requirement of both the FPS 1992 and FPS 2006. Further information on abatement can be found in the abatement factsheet.
FPS 1992 and FPS 2006 pension scheme rules allow for a Fire Authority to make a discretionary decision not to abate a pension. However, where that decision is taken the rules require the Fire Authority to pay into the notional pension fund an amount that would be equal to the pension that should be abated.
No decision has been made by HMT on this. LGA is exploring with NFCC Finance Committee and Home Office colleagues the potential for a business case to be made to HMT in order for FRAs to be funded should they make this discretionary decision in the case of returning firefighters as a result of COVID-19.
In the meantime, please be aware that there is still a requirement to fund a decision not to abate.
Thank you to those that took the time to complete our COVID-19 and the FPS administration resilience survey – we had a great response and your input has helped us raise the important issues with the Government and the Pensions Regulator, and tailor the support and guidance we provide.
We would now like to hear from you on how the current situation is impacting the governance of the Firefighters’ schemes. Please complete the COVID-19 FPS Governance survey – it should take around 10 minutes. We are happy to accept multiple responses per FRA; ideally we would like to hear from the scheme manager and/ or Local Pension Board chair.
As our distribution lists do not yet extend to delegated scheme managers, please forward this request as appropriate.
The survey will remain open until 30 June 2020.
Letter to chairs
Governance and Local Pension Boards (LPBs)
While we recognise the challenges of ensuring operational function at this time, our expectations are that now, more than ever, we would expect LPBs to be ensuring that the scheme is being managed appropriately.
We will be issuing guidance to boards on their role of governance during this time, including providing online training.
Breaches of law
We recognise that current working practices might make it harder to identify errors or breaches of law. We urge LPB chairs to have regular conversations with their scheme manager and ensure the board is familiar with the procedures to identify, assess and report breaches of law as laid out in our six TPR processes factsheet and the breach assessment template.
The National Employers, FBU and NFCC have agreed a number of additional activities during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Ambulance Service Assistance; Ambulance Driving and Patient/Ambulance personnel support limited to current competence (Not additional FRS First or Co-responding)
- Vulnerable persons - delivery of essential items
- COVID-19 – Mass Casualty. (Movement of bodies)
- Face Fitting for masks to be used by frontline NHS and clinical care staff working with COVID-19 patients
- Delivery of PPE and other medical supplies to NHS and care facilities
- Assisting in taking samples for COVID-19 antigen testing
- Driving ambulance transport not on blue-lights (excluding known COVID-19 patients) to outpatient appointments or to receive urgent care
- Driving Instruction by FRS driver trainers to deliver training for non-Service personnel to drive ambulances (not on blue-lights)
- The assembly of single use face shields for the NHS and care work front line staff
- Packing/Repacking food supplies for vulnerable people
- Known or suspected COVID-19 Patients: transfer to and from Nightingale hospitals under emergency response (blue light) or through non-emergency patient transfer (not on blue lights)
- Non-COVID-19 Patients: Transfer to and from Nightingale hospitals under emergency response (blue light) or through non-emergency patient transfer (not on blue lights) – this includes recovering and recuperating patients no longer infected with COVID-19.
- Delivery of pre-designed training packages on Infection Prevention and Control, including hand, hygiene, PPE ’donning’ & ‘doffing’ guidance and procedures; and supporting the care home staff testing i.e. to train care home staff to train others cording to the principle of ‘train the trainers.’
- Delivery of pre-designed training packages on Infection Prevention and Control, including hand, hygiene, PPE ’donning’ & ‘doffing’ guidance and procedures; and supporting the care home staff testing i.e. direct to care home staff.
These are to be regarded as part of the core job and are therefore eligible for injury benefits and pension benefits under current arrangements. The extent of additional activities will be kept under review and may therefore increase.
Links to the tripartite agreements can be accessed below.
The seventh tripartite statement adds two further areas of the work that may be undertaken by firefighters in relation to COVID-19 - 22 May 2020 (PDF, 3 pages, 151kb)
The sixth COVID-19 tripartite statement agrees four further areas of work to be added - 23 April 2020 (PDF, 3 pages, 178kb)
The fifth COVID-19 tripartite statement adds three further areas of additional work to the agreement reached on 26 March - 16 April 2020 (PDF, 3 pages, 148kb)
The fourth COVID-19 tripartite statement adds two further additional areas of work - 9 April 2020 (PDF, 2 pages, 146kb)
COVID-19 tripartite statement on additional activities - 3 April 2020 (PDF, 6 pages, 240kb)
COVID-19 tripartite agreement from the National Employers, National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) - 26 March 2020 (PDF, 3 pages, 182kb)
COVID-19 joint statement from the National Employers, National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) covering matters relating specifically to fire service risk management - 24 March 2020 (PDF, 2 pages, 140kb)
On 23 April James Brokenshire, the minister for State of Security, issued a letter by email to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the Fire Services Management Committee (FSMC) on reducing burdens and supporting the fire sector through the current COVID-19 emergency.
This letter supports the work that is being done nationally to deal with coronavirus (COVID-19). It outlines a number of ways in which the government is seeking to further support local services in this challenging period.
Our colleagues on the pensions team recently contacted the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisers (ALAMA) regarding inconsistency in the approaches taken by IQMP providers during the COVID-19 crisis.
ALAMA confirmed that the following instruction has been posted to their website:
“During the current COVID-19 crisis, it is important to continue to progress ill health retirement applications. It is also particularly important that assessments remain fair and reasonable, and that should include requesting GP and specialist reports as required. There has never been a requirement for these assessments to be face to face, therefore paperwork reviews, with telephone clarification if needed, is the most appropriate way to progress these.
If it is not possible to get reports, an assessment should be based on whether reports are likely to influence your decision further, and whether you have enough objective evidence to make an opinion. Opinions should always be ‘on balance of probability’. There will be times when you simply don’t have sufficient objective evidence to support ill health retirement, and you have been unable to get clinical reports. You should suggest that the applicant request copies of clinical reports direct from their GP.”
As previously notified we have been exploring the regulation wording and effect on the definition of a firefighter for the employment not to be temporary.
The advice we have received confirms that eligibility to the scheme under the regulations rests on the person being employed as ‘firefighter’ and the employment to not be temporary.
“regular firefighter” - in relation to any time on or after 1st October 2004, the expression means a person who is employed—
(a) by a fire and rescue authority as a firefighter (whether whole-time or part-time), other than as a retained or volunteer firefighter , and
(b) on terms under which he is, or may be, required to engage in fire-fighting or, without a break in continuity of such employment, may be required to perform other duties appropriate to his role as a firefighter (whether instead of, or in addition to, engaging in firefighting) and whose employment is not temporary.
We are aware that questions have been asked with regards to the qualifying injury status for a firefighter that dies from COVID-19.
This matter has been raised with officials at the Home Office who have confirmed that the matter is being discussed with HM Treasury and other Government Departments. We continue to seek that view as soon as possible and will provide a further update in due course.
There is a statutory responsibility to issue Annual Benefit Statements (ABS) by 31 August 2020, which as yet has not changed. However, TPR have confirmed that they “recognise that producing ABS this year could be challenging, and we’ll take a pragmatic view about schemes that don’t manage it by 31 August” and will be “proportionate and fair when assessing whether to take any action”.
We will continue to monitor this situation and work with TPR and the Home Office to understand what reporting requirements should look like for schemes who do not manage to issue their statements by 31 August 2020 as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you foresee particular issues around your likelihood of meeting the ABS deadline, please let us know.
There is a statutory responsibility to issue Pension Saving Statements by 6 October 2020. We are aware that due to a delay in the year end process and constrictions of working practices due to COVID-19 that there are some concerns over whether this deadline can be met. The deadline for pension savings statements is directly related to the requirement to pay any tax charge payable under voluntary scheme pays (VSP) by 31 January 2021. This has been raised with the relevant departments and we will provide an update as soon as we are able.
An email was sent to all scheme managers and administrators on 25 March requesting completion of our online survey, completion of this survey will help us make the best case on your behalf to the Government and TPR and ensure that we provide the support and guidance you need, it would be of great benefit if you could provide us with the information requested.
Survey results so far
We were pleased to receive a good response to the survey with over 85% of services responding and confirming that overall there is very good resilience in place, demonstrating that the scheme is well placed to maintain payments and calculations.
Q1. How confident are you that you can continue to pay pensioners?
The scheme response showed that schemes were ‘very confident’ in being able to continue to pay pensioners.
Q2. How confident are you that you can calculate and process new retirements and death benefits?
Although the confidence in being able to calculate and process new retirements was still very encouraging, more answers did allude to that confidence only pending the ability of the employer to provide timely and accurate data.
We urge pension boards and scheme managers to check that there are sufficient processes in place for the employer to ensure the administrator is provided with accurate and timely information.
COVID-19 position does not change the implications of using secondary contracts.
Injury on Duty
You should ensure the employee is aware that the amount of any award in the event of an injury received while performing duty is calculated based on the period of service for the contract under which the qualifying injury was received, i.e. where a second contract is used for additional duties and the qualifying injury is received while in the performance of these duties, the injury pension would be calculated based on the service for the second contract only.
FPSC 6/2007 provides some useful informal commentary on second contracts of employment, however, this should be read with caution as it is dated and no longer endorsed by the Home Office.
Eligibility to the pension scheme
In order to be eligible for the pension scheme, the contract would need to state that the role includes resolving operational incidents or leading and supporting others in resolving operational incidents, and that the person is or may be required to engage in fire-fighting or may be required to perform other duties appropriate to their role as a firefighter (whether instead of, or in addition to, engaging in fire-fighting).
This was established by Booth v Mid and West Wales  EWHC 790 (Justice Fancourt) in the case of Mr Skhane’s additional contract to provide Urban Search and Rescue USAR cover, further information on this case is available on the pensionable pay factsheet.
In addition, each of the schemes require the person to have been employed as a firefighter. Please see the eligibility factsheet for further details. While the wording may be slightly different, the definition of a regular, retained, and volunteer firefighter in each of the scheme rules is broadly the same, and requires the person to be appointed under terms that they may be required to engage in firefighting and whose employment is not temporary:
"on terms under which he is, or may be, required to engage in fire-fighting or, without a break in continuity of such employment, may be required to perform other duties appropriate to his role as a firefighter (whether instead of, or in addition to, engaging in fire-fighting) and whose employment is not temporary"
It is our informal view that the requirement for the employment to not be temporary means that contracts such as zero hour contracts that may contain wording similar to "You will be engaged on an as and when required basis. There is no obligation to offer you work, nor is there any obligation on you to accept work." could be interpreted as temporary and we would advise that authorities get a legal view if they intend the role to be pensionable.
Benefits of being a member of the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme are:
- a secure annual pension
- added life cover of two times pensionable pay or three times pensionable pay depending on scheme
- tax free cash option
- access to an ill-health pension
- survivor benefits.
Implications of opting out of the scheme are:
- Benefits will be paid from the deferred pension age, which is generally more than five years later than for an active member
- If you were a member of the FPS 1992, you will not be able to re-join the same scheme which might impact benefits option for members who will be eligible for the age discrimination remedy.
- Pension contributions attract tax relief so a basic tax rate payer paying contributions of £300 will pay £60 more in tax if they opt out.
Notes on opting out for each of the schemes are available under the ‘Forms’ tab on the guides and sample documents page of our website.
Where a member is paying additional periodical contributions to purchase added years in FPS 1992 or FPS 2006 these payments can be suspended on the FRAs discretion where they are satisfied that payment of the periodical contributions is causing, or is likely to cause, financial hardship.
The relevant regulations for each scheme are:
FPS 1992 G7, Paragraph 3
Where the member is paying periodical contributions to purchase additional pension in FPS 2015, the member can give notice at any time to discontinue payments, under Schedule 1, Rule 9.
You will be aware that Duradiamond, the current contracted provider of medical appeals, has temporarily suspended appeal hearings for three months.
This may have the effect of delaying termination of employment on medical grounds and keep firefighters in employment until the conclusion of the process. We have raised this with the Home Office and will provide any update in due course.
We appreciate any delay to the medical appeal process will be disappointing to members and FRAs, however, as we are sure you are aware the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and this delay is unavoidable.
We have been in contact with the Home Office regularly on a number of COVID-19 related matters and from next Wednesday (1 April 2020) we will hold weekly calls to discuss administration issues. Included in these calls will be the feedback from the survey plus other issues raised by FRAs and administrators. These calls will inform our Q&A responses and assist the Home Office in considering any necessary guidance.
There has been a lot of disturbing news lately about the fall in stock markets and the potential resultant impact on defined contribution pensions.
The Firefighters' Pension Scheme is an unfunded scheme which means it is not linked to stock market performance and benefits are set out in statute.
FPS members can therefore be assured that both their contributions and their pension, whether in payment or built up to date, will be unaffected.
It is possible that pension scams could increase during the COVID-19 outbreak. These scams take many forms and could be about insurance policies, pensions transfers, or high-return investment opportunities, including investments in crypto assets.
Scammers are sophisticated, opportunistic and will try many things. They’re very likely to target the vulnerable. Members should be advised to watch out for scams related to coronavirus and beware of investments that seem too good be true.
Suspected scams should be reported to Action Fraud straight away on 0300 123 2040.
Coronavirus: money guide for employers from the Money and Pensions Service (HTML)
COVID-19: what you need to consider. Updates for trustees, employers and administrators from the Pensions Regulator (HTML)
HMRC Pension schemes newsletter 118 - March 2020: including temporary changes to pension processes as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) (HTML)
Data protection and coronavirus: what you need to know. Information from the Information Commissioner's Office (HTML)
PLSA COVID-19 resources (HTML)