A campaign by Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart has been highlighted in the Financial Times’ Pensions Expert page today (Monday).
Stewart was asked to contribute to the article, which is published online at www.pensions-expert.com
The piece by journalist Stephanie Hawthorne covers an issue affecting employers in the Plumbing and Mechanical Services Industry Pension Scheme.
A complex piece of pension legislation requires employers to pay a large exit charge when they leave the scheme.
Mr Stewart is campaigning for justice for his 72-year-old constituent Murray Menzies (pictured) from Inverness who has been issued with an estimated debt demand for £1.2 million and faces losing his home and assets to repay the so-called debt.
Today’s Financial Times article, which viewers must register free-of-charge to read, highlights that The Pensions Regulator has been in discussions with the trustees of the Plumbing and Mechanical Services Industry Pension Scheme over governance failures.
Stewart said: “As someone who has been campaign on this issue for some time, the Financial Times asked if I would contribute to the piece.
Some of what I said was quoted. Here is the uncut version.
- Do you believe the plumber employers’ S75 debt has now become a human rights issue?
“I strongly believe this has now become a human rights issue. There is a right to property under the European Convention on Human Rights. And in more general terms, this is a total misjustice and it’s having a disproportionate effect on good employers throughout the country. It’s a scandal and it is ruining people’s lives.”
- Have you any response from your contact with Guy Opperman MP (Pensions Minister)? What did you ask him and what was his reply?
“It feels to me like I have written to Mr Opperman a multitude of times since the start of the year when I travelled to Whitehall for talks I scheduled with him and his DWP policy leaders. I told them this so-called debt of £1.2 million was wreaking havoc on my constituent Murray Menzies’ well-being, it had frozen all his hopes for the future, put paid to any chance he ever had of a retirement. I told them he is going through what could only be described as a living hell. I said surely something could be done, surely there is a way out for Mr Menzies and those other unincorporated employers hit so unfairly with debts so massive only the sale of their homes and assets could repay them. But I was told Government had initiated a lot of work on this issue and that all stones were turned an no escape routes found. I came away with no solution but have continued contacting Mr Opperman. I have invited him to meet with Mr Menzies, I feel I am continually knocking on his door. He turned down my most recent request, which was for a five-year moratorium on the debt. He said allowing an underfunded scheme to collect a lower amount of debt would further weaken member benefit security and increase the burden on remaining employers to fund the scheme. So the law is forcing these people to pay for pensions of people who have never worked for them. They are innocent victims of flawed legislation. I will continue to call on the Government to act swiftly. It cannot let this scandal drag on.”
Do you have any other general comments on the case?
“These plumbers have been left in a horrible position. The legislation wasn’t intended to penalise these individuals for being unincorporated but the debt they owe doesn’t go away. I know the hope for the scheme was its funding situation would improve but that hasn’t happened. Every day for my constituent is a day of anticipation, wondering when the sheriff’s officers might knock on the door, hoping against hope that the pensions scheme trustees will keep putting this debt to the back of the queue and that they can, as a last resort, use the rules and legislation where is says if the money they are going to get back is lower than what it would cost for them to pursue then they don’t have to go after it. The question I want to know the answer to is can they use that in some of those hard to help cases like my constituent Murray Menzies?”