Halcrow Pensioners Association

Newsletter No. 31


 Newsletter No. 31 : Easter 2018

This is a newsletter of the Halcrow Pensioners Association. More details of HPA's objectives, organisation and its activities are here. You have been sent this newsletter because you may be a member of the Halcrow Pension Scheme or its successor, HPS2. Membership of HPA is open to all interested HPS / HPS2 members and currently costs £10/year.  If you are not a member then please use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of this email to remove your name from the mailing list or email the webmaster to remove your name.

Recovery of Overpaid Halcrow Pensions
The checking of pensions in payment by the Halcrow pensions administration team was mentioned in Newsletter No. 29 and this newsletter provides additional information. Some Halcrow pensioners have been advised of small increases but others have received demands for recovery of overpayment of past pension amounting to several thousand pounds in some cases. It is possible that past Halcrow management may have been aware of the various overpayments, accepted them as their mistake and exercised discretion by not instigating recovery. Clearly, current Trustees have chosen not to use this discretion and are attempting to pass the cost of the Scheme’s administrative mistakes onto the pensioner.

The demands for repayment offer the option of lump sum repayment or deductions to future pension payments until the money has been recovered. Of course, a lump sum repayment will be using income that has been taxed while the future deductions options will reduce future tax payments, by paying the lump sum scheme members may be at a significant disadvantage. HPA suggests that you do not agree to repay before seeking advice from the Pensions Advisory Service and considering your tax position, see below. 

A repayment demand potentially affects the unfortunate pensioner in two ways: (i) the future pension payments are reduced to the corrected amount and are then (ii) further reduced by the deductions to recovery the overpayments. These overpayments are In addition to the imposed zero increases in respect of pre-1997 accruals which were part of the Regulated Apportionment Agreement (RAA) which was forced upon HPS members due to the potential for CH2M to make Halcrow Group Ltd bankrupt. Potential insolvency masked other drivers for CH2M such as the desire of CH2M management to sell the business for maximum value without the pension liabilities, which was completed only a year after the RAA was implemented.

The Pensions Ombudsman lists several situations where demands for repayment of overpaid pensions would not be upheld. For example: "If money was spent on a generally improved standard of living over a period of time that may also mean it can’t be repaid." The Ombudsman also states "Whether or not the money has to be repaid, we may tell those responsible for the scheme to pay compensation for non-financial injustice, such as distress or annoyance". It is likely that this compensation will be token.

It is also noted that the maximum period of overpayment recovery allowed by law is 6 years.  There is also a relevant High Court judgment in 2016 concerning the timing of the six year period when a dispute about overpayment recovery is referred to the Pensions Ombudsman and which might reduce the amount to be repaid.

As is often the case, the scheme member is at a disadvantage and isolated, whilst the Scheme holds the collective information and all the cards.  The Trustees (now the directors of the Trustee) have repeatedly refused to inform scheme members of the existence of the Halcrow Pensioners Association although such awareness is arguably in the scheme members' interest.
Halcrow Pensioners Association is attempting to support members in receipt of any overpayment demand and to collate information regarding the overpayments to see if a pattern is emerging that would help members individually and collectively. If you have received a demand for recovery of overpayment we recommend you take three actions:
1.    Don’t agree without advice from the Pensions Advisory Service  - this is a free service https://www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk
2.    Don’t agree without challenging the recovery demand and seeking clarification of the reasons, amounts, breakdowns etc  
3.    Inform Halcrow Pensioners Association of the circumstances around your retirement, (amounts are not necessary) together with retirement date, period of overpayment recovery and the reason given for the alleged overpayment eg miscalculation due to early retirement.

Regardless of whether you have received an overpayment recovery demand it would be useful if you could circulate this newsletter to past Halcrow colleagues who may not have heard of Halcrow Pensioners Association, due to the Scheme Trustee(s) repeated past refusal to inform the scheme membership of HPA's existence. This could so easily have been achieved at the time of notifying members of their annual pensions increases which have included notifications of pensioners' reunions.

 Previous Newsletters
If you haven't been with HPA from the start or want to remind yourself of previous events then you can browse through the previous newsletters for which there is a full list here.