“Once obsolete, an automobile is thrown to the scrap heap. Once here and gone, the human life has likewise served its purpose. If it has been a good life, it has been sufficient. There is no need for another.”
― Luther Burbank
There is life after being medically retired with an Injury on Duty award. There are new opportunities and experiences available that were not remotely imaginable whilst serving. Losing a vocation through no default of your own is hard enough and trying to rebuild a life with a disability is a trial of Hercules … but it is possible and the rewards are there to be taken.
But how difficult is it to build a semblance of normality when you are constantly placed on a carousel of continuous reviews? Reviews that have been instigated with an ulterior purpose to reduce the award to the lowest permissible band as soon as possible. Are you now a member of the public or are you still under the umbrella of a disciplined serviced with the compulsion to respond to an order of a review on the whim of the Police Pension Authority (PPA)? How can you progress when there is an interruption of a zealous and watchful eye looking for any change even though any progress and improvement could be short lived and ephemeral.
Is a review 6 months post retirement suitable? What about 18 months? 5 years?
A 6 month timeline may possibly be appropriate for a person with a band one or two degree of disablement to see if the condition has deteriorated perhaps, giving time to find some sort of employment and if none if forthcoming and there is substantial worsening to the medical condition then the award can be revised upwards.
But a 6 month interval invoked by the PPA to see if the person is in any employment is not appropriate as a band two award states that the degree of disablement is between 25% and 50% so it can be expected that some capacity to earn is possible, so what is the purpose of a review after such a short period? What happens if the review triggers a relapse of PTSD and the stress of a review combined with the difficulties of starting a new working life post being a police officer, causes the mental illness to manifest more strongly and the employment is lost as a result – the paradox of a worsening of the index injury but with recent employment will not be viewed favourable by the PPA, with their closed minded and misguided intent to reduce their financial commitments surely thinking the latter trumps the former. Therefore a fair and suitable interval could be a further 6 months into the employment, once things have settled down for the former officer and the the employment is established. An IOD award is for life and the peaks and troughs do not give an excuse for a knee jerk reaction by the PPA to change a statutory award. Ultimately the finality and a stability of an award is undermined by the PPA’s determination to ‘prove’ the original decision wrong; that is the singular purpose of a review as seen by the PPA – always to reduce, never to increase. **
**note: The two above paragraphs, although reality in a pragmatic sense, falls into the same trap that SMPs often stumble into – “lets give a banding as a punt and then get the chap in a few months to see if I got it right”. The regulations are apathetic to whether employment materialises or not. The capacity to earn does not tally with actual employment or earnings; both are irrelevant to a person’s capacity … the terms ‘economically inactive’, ‘under-employed’ and ‘over-qualified’ alludes to this fact. The bottom line is that the SMP makes a final decision of the degree of disablement and only substantial alteration can justify a review. There is nothing in the regulations that allows for a ‘suck it and see’ approach. Once made a decision to the banding is final. The SMP has no room to think he might get it wrong – he makes the award in the here and now. An un-appealed IOD award banding once given is right by its nature of being given, and can only be ‘undone’ by a regulation 32 reconsideration.
If the person’s wellbeing is in the forefront of their mind then a review after 6 months is not the answer. Why not ask a welfare officer of the Federation to check in with the former officer? Ask how they are coping, suggest to the person that if their condition has deteriorated then they can self-refer themselves for a review, in their own time and when they feel strong enough to face such a daunting prospect.
What about a review every 2 years? Is that a suitable interval? Not if you are a band four with a severe degree of disablement of earning capacity. If a review takes up to 6 months to complete then a review every 2 years will mean that in a decade you will have spent a full 2 years ‘under review’. Intolerable to be living a life that way.
Fundamentally the timing of a review needs to be dependant on the individual’s circumstances. The timing of subsequent reviews requires a judgement by the PPA to allow the former officer to live before being reminded of a past life. If after 5 years there is no change to the circumstances of a band four then arguably there is a strong case for no further reviews in that person’s lifetime. If nothing has improved after 5 years, then what can change in the autumn years of that person’s life?
The answer to these conundrums is to ask questions of the PPA. Whenever notified that a review is to be arranged, the first response of any pensioner should always be to ask, Why? Why me, Why now? Get the PPA to qualify its interpretation of a suitable interval. Chances are that the PPA (in reality some bod in HR) will not have given it a moment’s thought. Explain to the HR bod that ‘suitable’ infers that the interval must be right and appropriate for each individual. Ask them to explain their understanding of what constitutes a suitable interval, in general terms, and in the particular circumstances of your case. Ask if they have a policy, or a procedure for considering if a suitable interval has passed. If the PPA can’t answer the questions, then arguably the legitimacy of the review fails on the first hurdle.
It has been the habit of forces to think they have unlimited power to hold a review whenever they liked. Some even set up schedules or programmes when reviews would be conducted. As mentioned, others have a policy – reviews every two years, or five years. Tellingly, and ultimately fatal to all who claim that regular reviews are a ‘duty’ there is nowhere to hide from a history of having either held no reviews or having told people they would never be reviewed. It is as legal, and as legitimate, for someone to decide there will be no more reviews as it is, when done properly, for a PPA to decide to hold a review. They can’t claim a duty to review when it is evidential that they have not held reviews. They can’t have it both ways.
Let David Scoffield, QC have the last word. He is the eminent Queens Council who was commissioned by the Policing Board of Northern Ireland to look into the administration (shouldn’t that be maladministration?) of police injury pensions that side of the water, where the Regulations are pretty much identical to ours.
‘There should be a move away from automatic review for all cases at any fixed interval set in policy. The judgment as to when a review is appropriate should be made on a more case-sensitive basis, driven particularly by medical advice on this issue from the SMP and/or IMR (although it ought to remain open to an officer to request a review himself at any time and the Board should also retain the right to initiate a review at any time if information comes to its attention identifying an apparent relevant change in circumstances). SMPs and IMRs should expressly be asked to provide the Board with advice on this issue in their completion of reports.’