Pension Schemes – Annual Benefits Statement

Under the Pensions Act 2013, active scheme members must be provided with an ‘annual benefit statement’ by the scheme manager (Fire Authority).

Benefit statements must be sent to any member on request, within 2 months.

The statement must include a description of the benefits earned in respect of their pensionable service.

If you have not yet received your statement we would suggest in the first instance that you contact your local HR department requesting the timescale for the statement to be issued. Should you continue to experience problems obtaining your statement please contact us.

Pension Schemes – Modified Pension Scheme

Over the past few months we have become aware of a variety of methods, local fire services administer the process whereby Retained staff pay for historical pension contributions when joining the Modified Pension Scheme.

Some of these methods give us cause for concern in that in some instances members/employees are not receiving the appropriate tax relief on their pension contributions. One example given is where backdated contributions are being paid via a monthly direct debit rather than being taken from salary.

It is also clear that a number of members have bought back their historic pension contributions through a lump sum without realising that the lump sum has been calculated without incorporating tax relief.

Such an example recently resulted in a member receiving approx. £2,000 from HMRC after taking advice from the RFU and it is clear to us that this is not an isolated case.

While the RFU cannot provide financial advice we can and have provided assistance to members who are unaware of the options available to them.

If you believe you fall into any of the aforementioned situations please do not hesitate to contact RFU HQ.

Social Media – WhatsApp

The number of disciplinary cases requiring RFU representation relating to social media has fallen over the last 18 months. This is clearly a move in the right direction and due to a number of reasons including greater awareness by operational staff of what is and is not treated as being acceptable by local FRS.

The application ‘WhatsApp’ is being used by Retained stations as an effective means of communicating with colleagues and specifically to ensure crew members are available to keep appliances on the run. However, we would strongly advise members to treat WhatsApp in the same way as they would other forms of social media such as facebook, as it is open to the same pitfalls as has been demonstrated with recent union cases.

If you require further advice please contact your local representative.

Essex FRS – Cultural Review

Following on from the Culture Review of Essex Fire & Rescue Service (EFRS) undertaken in March 2015, Sir Ken Knight visited the service for two days in July this year, to establish the amount of progress that had been made so far.

We acknowledge that the work needed to challenge and change the past culture within the service will not happen overnight, which is demonstrated by Sir Ken’s comment contained within the report which states:

‘Anecdotal evidence suggested to me that whilst the Lucas Review had created activity and plans at an Authority and Headquarters level, little has changed at watches and fire stations and some of the unacceptable behaviours remain in place.’

The RFU will continue to play an important role in helping management and elected members to deliver the necessary reform that is needed within the service in Essex and hope other stakeholders will make a similar contribution.

Sir Ken will be returning to EFRS later in the autumn for a further progress update. We will continue to keep members updated with developments.

Station Visits

As a modern, moderate and member led organisation with a no-strike constitution, we know how important it is to engage with Retained firefighters who may not be familiar with how the RFU operates across the country. We find that the best way to do this is to visit crews either side of a drill night to have an informal discussion about the benefits of RFU membership.

This usually lasts 20-30 minutes and gives us an opportunity to also find out the crews opinions on issues that matter to them, which might include local and/or national subjects.

If you would welcome a chance to be listened to and have an exchange of views and ideas on how best your station and service can move forward, we can arrange for a RFU official to come to your station on a date and time that is suitable for you without disrupting your training period.

For more information contact 01953 455005 or email hq@therfu.org.

Part-time worker discrimination

Amazingly and despite Retained firefighters having a legal status of being a ‘part-time’ worker, we are still seeing practices of discrimination to the detriment of Retained staff in a number of services across the country.

Grievances relating to promotion, sick pay and allowances, are just some of the examples where the RFU has supported members over the last 12 months.

There are still practices within some services that are discriminating against Retained firefighters which is simply unacceptable and will be challenged by the RFU. If you are aware of such a practice please contact us to discuss your concerns.