A teachers’ union has urged members not to join a group action brought by Leigh Day over discriminatory changes made to their pensions, saying it is “unnecessary and inappropriate”.
The firm has also hit back at criticism of what it is charging the 300-plus teachers who have so far instructed it.
The London and Manchester practice is bringing a claim in the employment tribunal over changes the government made to teachers’ pensions in 2015, when those who were not within 10 years of retirement were moved from final salary schemes to career average schemes.
The courts have already found that making the changes in this way constitutes unlawful age discrimination in relation to similar changes made to judges’ and police pensions.
Leigh Day said the teachers were entitled to be treated as if they had never left the final salary scheme, the remedy that has been offered on an interim basis to judges and police officers who have already brought successful claims.
But it said the government has not made a similar commitment to provide any remedy to the wider workforce of police officers and judges, or to other public sector workers affected by similar pension changes.
But the National Education Union (NEU) has advised its members that there is no need to sign up to such cases.
It said: “The government has already confirmed that members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme will be compensated on the same basis as the litigants in the cases already decided in respect of judges and firefighters, without any need to lodge their own cases.
“These law firms are asking members to pay as much as £1,800 (£1,500 plus VAT) in legal fees, to be paid from compensation which the government has already said will be payable.
“The compensation payable to some members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme may be less than the legal fees being quoted, and some members may actually have gained from the changes in which case no compensation would be payable.
“The NEU believes that these law firms’ actions are wholly unnecessary and inappropriate. If the position changes, then members will be informed.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Following the decision in the Court of Appeal in December 2018, the government confirmed that the difference in treatment would need to be addressed across the main public sector schemes, including the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
“We are working with HM Treasury to remedy the difference in treatment for all members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme with relevant service, regardless of whether they have lodged a claim.”
In response, Leigh Day partner Nigel Mackay insisted that the government have never said it would compensate all teachers: “If that was their plan, they could unequivocally say that. They have only ever said that they are working to address the difference in treatment. At most, this commits them to looking to remove the discrimination at some point in the future.
“They have never said that they will remedy all teachers in full for the discrimination already suffered from 2015 up to the point in the future when they address the discrimination.
“In every pension case we are involved in – over 15,000 to date – the only people who the government has conceded will get the remedy are those with claims lodged with the tribunal.
“It remains the case that the only way to ensure you receive a full remedy for the period from 2015 is to bring a successful claim.”
Mr Mackay added that clients would never have to pay more in legal fees than the damages they receive.
“Our fee is either £1,500 or 25% plus VAT of any financial benefit received by our clients, whichever is the lower amount, so the fee could never be more than 25% plus VAT of the financial benefit received.
“This is in a case where pension losses and value often run to tens of thousands of pounds upon retirement. This is also on a no win no fee basis and is fully explained in our agreement with our clients.”