Show me the money!
Budget cuts since 2011 up to 2015 amounted to a reduction of 20% in the amount allocated by the Home Office to policing. From 2015 more cuts were imposed.
According to estimates compiled by the National Audit Office, police funding fell from 2010/11 to 2018/19. Overall, funding fell by 19%, taking inflation into account.
This varies a lot locally. That 19% average ranges from an 11% fall in Surrey police force to a 25% fall in Northumbria. This is mainly because some forces, like Northumbria, rely more heavily on government grants and don’t raise as much locally.
With that difficult financial background in mind, we turn our attention how one particular force, Northumbria, chose to deal with the situation by seeking to grab money from the pensions paid to disabled former officers who were forced to retire due to injury received in the execution of their duty.
In June 2015 the force Executive Board was presented with a report written by Jocelin Lawson, Director of Human Resources. Its title was ‘Introduction of Injury Award Reviews, Regulation 37(1) Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006’
Here it is –
For new readers, we need to explain that a ‘review’ is a term which has come into general use to identify processes taken by a Police Pension Authority (‘PPA’) to ensure the correct level of injury pension continues to be paid.
The report states there is a ‘legal obligation’ for ‘The Force’ to consider at suitable intervals whether there has been an alteration of the pensioner’s degree of disablement, by means of a medical assessment.
However, this statement is unfortunately misleading, despite its apparently factual delivery. It is mistaken.
The above Regulations actually allow not ‘The Force’ but a Police Pension Authority – which is an office vested in the sole personage of the Chief Constable – to use unfettered discretion over whether or when to take action under regulation 37 (1). There is no blanket ‘statutory obligation’ as claimed.
By failing to differentiate between ‘The Force’ and the Police Pension Authority, Ms. Lawson provides a revealing insight. The Chief Constable of Northumbria has allowed his concerns over his budget to influence detrimentally his duties as the Police Pension Authority.
Let’s do what the report fails to do, and show you the actual wording of regulation 37(1):
Reassessment of injury pension
37.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, where an injury pension is payable under these Regulations, the police [pension] authority shall, at such intervals as may be suitable, consider whether the degree of the pensioner’s disablement has altered; and if after such consideration the police authority find that the degree of the pensioner’s disablement has substantially altered, the pension shall be revised accordingly.
Note well – there is no mention of a ‘medical reassessment’ nor of setting up a programme to review each and every injury on duty pension. A PPA is to do no more initially than ‘consider whether the degree of the pensioner’s disablement has altered.’
The regulation does not assist the PPA by defining what form the consideration might take. That is no oversight, as it is apparent the regulation intends that the PPA will use its discretion whilst promoting the scope and purposes of the Regulations as a whole. That does not extend to conducting medical reassessments of all recipients of an injury pension, in the hope of finding substantial alteration.
The very wording of regulation 37(1) indicates unmistakably that any consideration must be an individual undertaking. It is a singular thing, a reaction to a change in circumstances affecting an identified pensioner’s degree of disablement.
What Northumbria forgets, or perhaps chooses to ignore, is that the Regulations (specifically, regulation 30 which is rather too lengthy to reproduce here but which can be viewed via this link only permit the PPA to appoint a duly qualified medical practitioner to determine the extent of any alteration when the PPA is considering revising an individual’s injury pension.
An injury pension cannot be revised unless there has been a substantial alteration. Therefore, Northumbria is utterly out of order in thinking it can task a doctor with conducting ‘medical reassessments’ before it has gone through the required individual consideration of the likelihood of alteration in degree of disablement.
IODPA advises any injury on duty pensioner of Northumbria, or of any other force, to bear this in mind should they be asked to attend a medical interview and/or examination. We can offer sound practical advice on what to do, and what not to do. Advice which comes from the most expert and authoritative legal sources.
Now let’s look at a glaringly obvious logical flaw in the report. Northumbria ceased reviewing in the early part of 2010. The report places the blame on the Home Office for advising all forces to cease planned reviews, ‘until case law provided clarity on the law.’
So, from 2010 to date, Northumbria was content to set aside what it now claims is a ‘legal duty’.
Even the most warped legal mind would know that Home Office advice is not law. It does not have to be obeyed. Northumbria could have continued to conduct reviews, and could have done so without falling foul of ‘case law’ if only it followed the Regulations. Moreover, Home Office advice ought not to be such that it tells a PPA to ignore a ‘legal obligation’.
Ms. Lawson’s report to the Executive Board effectively says that Northumbria, having blindly followed what turned out to be unlawful Home Office advice in 2008, and having once more blindly followed Home Office guidance by ceasing reviews in 2010 is now intent on intruding into the lives of its disabled former officers and their families by conducting a mass review of injury pensions.
It seems that Northumbria thinks it can have its cake and eat it. It thinks it can not review, or it can review as it wishes. It is mistaken.
There is a vast and dangerously dark difference between making a decision to review or not to review based on the wrong reasons, and making that decision properly based on only relevant and lawful reasons.
From 2010 to date, there may well have been pensioners who were entitled to have their degree of disablement reviewed, and to have their pension payment revised upwards due to a worsening of their condition. Northumbria was content to ignore them.
We can see from the report why Northumbria ceased reviews. We can see the misleading claim that it now needs to dust off what it thinks is a ‘legal obligation’ and recommence reviews. However, the report reveals the real reason why all injury on duty pensioners, whether elderly, vulnerable, in delicate balance of mental health, whether informed of their legal rights or kept in deep incognizance will now be put through a most distressing and intrusive process.
The reason is money…
On reading Ms. Lawson’s report, it very obviously concentrates on the financial aspects of the planned mass review programme.
It also very obviously absent of any serious consideration of the human impact of reviews. The silence speaks loudly of the single-minded purpose of the review programme and dismisses any adverse human impact in a single sentence. Ms. Lawson models her thinking along the lines of the First World War generals who saw soldiers as mere units to be sacrificed for the gain of a few yards of ground.
The report attempts to illustrate various financial outcomes. Needless to say, they all confidently predict savings for the force. In that it is also mistaken.
IODPA believes that Chief Constables, and those who advise them, should take more care to understand the differing, and sometimes conflicting, requirements and duties of the office of Chief Constable and that of Police Pension Authority. The latter is supposed to focus on ensuring injured disabled officers receive the appropriate level of compensation as provided for by the Regulations. That focus should be divorced from any consideration of the financial outcome to the force.
Chief Constables quite properly need to manage their budgets prudently, but they should see injury pension payments as a debt of honour, as ring-fenced, kept entirely separate from their attempts to save money. Instead of turning on people who are generally among the least able to defend themselves, they should be lobbying the Government for direct assistance in meeting their obligations under the police injury benefit regulations.
Where, we ask, are the rehabilitation programmes designed to help injured disabled officers adapt to life outside the force? Where do we see HR providing support and care to the families of injured disabled officers? Where is there any assistance in helping injured disabled pensioners finding work?
It seems to be the case that in Northumbria the Chief Constable – Winton Keenen (pictured) has forgotten entirely about his duty of care towards former officers. We suggest that if he wishes to save money by reducing what is clearly seen by him as the burden of injury pension payments, he would do better to achieve that aim by helping disabled former officers rather than by hounding them.