The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth – that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
― H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)
Clever Cat, Stupid Cat
Police pension authorities, and the employees who act under their instruction, have consistently demonstrated a remarkable ability to make errors. Over the last few years we in the IODPA have seen some prime examples, and have sadly heard of the damage they’ve caused to disabled former officers and their families.
It is said that if a cat jumps up onto a hot stove, it will never do it again. Well, we can say with a good degree of certainty that some police injury pension scheme managers are nowhere near as clever as cats.
No sooner has one PPA or another had its errors corrected by a judicial review or by the Pensions Ombudsman, than another pops up and repeats the very same errors, or invents completely new ones.
A Most Unpleasant Letter
Essex have decided to conduct a programme of reviews of the degree of disablement of some of its disabled former officers who are in receipt of an injury pension. So, Mr Kirby, the Head of Governance & Compliance for Essex police pension authority, took on the task of writing to them. Which presents us with the opportunity to dissect his extremely unpleasant and inaccurate letter and point out the errors it contains. The letter can be read in all its full glory here.
Letter from Essex call to review
Scalpel Please, Nurse.
Let’s make the first incision by reminding ourselves, and Mr Kirby, that the letter is addressed exclusively to disabled people. Some of whom will have physical impairment, some will have mental impairment and some both. We see no signs this appallingly constructed glob of officialese was written by someone who gave any thought to its possible impact on the recipients.
It is not hard to imagine the sense of doom, the panic, the lonely desperation welling up in the minds of those who are made vulnerable by the symptoms of a mental or physical injury when this letter landed on their doormats. We know, because we get told these things, often, and know the mere sight of a letter on police headed notepaper can be enough to destabilise some pensioners. Yet Mr Kirby addresses them all as though they are not only fit and well, but also fully conversant with the intricacies of the Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006.
We understand the main target of the proposed reviews are pensioners in band four. That is the highest degree of disablement, identified in the Regulations as ‘Very serious disablement’. Surely someone gave some thought to the impact of the letter on this group of people?
Before we go further we should assure Mr Kirby that we mean no personal insult to him. He may be a pawn in a larger game, and only doing what he has been commanded to do. He may be understaffed, untrained and unsure. He could be under pressure to produce results. However, he put his name to the letter and must take responsibility for its contents.
Apologise and Withdraw
If Mr Kirby has any moral core he will immediately apologise for sending out his letter, and the questionnaire and Appendix which came with it. He will withdraw it all, and sit down with local NARPO, Federation and injury pensioners, to consider very carefully the implications to the force and to the injury pensioners should the PPA continue on the disastrous course his letter has set.
IODPA has no issues with lawfully held reviews but we have to speak out when a PPA announces its intention to act outside the confines of the Regulations. This blog is intended to be as much an encouragement to Essex to realise its wrongheadedness and to think again, as it is a crib sheet for injury on duty pensioners, giving them points to use to challenge and question their police pension authority.
Mr Kirby’s letter contains so many errors and muddled inaccurate information that it is going to take more than one blog to deal with it and the accompanying Appendix and Questionnaire.
Mr Kirby’s letter begins with the phrase,
“As you are aware . . .” and mentions the Regulations and something he calls an intention to “. . . review your degree of disablement earnings related capacity.”
We very much doubt pensioners are aware. In our wide experience it would be a rare individual who would know the detail of the Regulations or what a review might involve. If they were to think the letter would explain, in simple easily understandable language, what the PPA is aiming to achieve, they would be disappointed.
Fools Rush In
The letter seems to have little or no grasp of the Regulations. Yet it is written with a confident style which is misplaced and in terms which display inadequacies.
There is no mention of a ‘review’ in the Regulations. That word does not appear. ‘Review’ has become generally accepted shorthand, for those who deal with injury pension issues on a daily basis, for the process which is mostly set out in regulation 37 of the Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006. Police injury on duty pensioners can not be assumed to know what a ‘review’ is. Thus, the first error of the letter is a failure to properly explain what Essex PPA intends.
Nor is there any mention in the Regulations of reviewing something called a ‘degree of disablement earnings related capacity’. Now, this is something which IODPA would very much like to see Mr Kirby attempt to explain. We have no idea what he is referring to and neither will any pensioner, because it is an invented term which has no bearing on the Regulations.
Let’s get things straight. Regulation 37 confers a conditional power of discretion, not a duty, on police pension authorities to do this, in this order:
- For an individual pensioner, positively identify that a ‘suitable interval’ has passed since the time of the last final decision on degree of disablement.
- ‘Consider’ whether the individual pensioner’s degree of disablement has altered.
- If a police pension authority has good reason to believe it has altered, so that the pension payment may need revising, up or down, then refer for decision the question of degree of disablement to a ‘duly qualified medical practitioner’.
- If the selected medical practitioner decides there has been a substantial alteration, they can determine what the degree of alteration is, by setting the amount of alteration against the established degree of disablement and thus arrive at a new percentage degree of disablement.
Now, of course, there is much, much more to the process that this brief aide-memoire provides. There are many ways a police pension authority can come unstuck. However, to assist Essex and guide them away from the current disastrous approach we should just mention that it is vital that any ‘review’ is an individual process for an individual person. A PPA simply can not decide en bloc to ‘review’ a group of pensioners.
A Misplaced Sense Of Duty
We should also mention what Mr Kirby’s letter describes as,
‘. . . a duty as part of good governance to periodically review the degree of earnings capacity of pensioners in receipt of an injury award.’
We will return to ‘good governance’ in the next blog, but we need to deal with ‘duty’ first. The duty placed on a police pension authority under regulation 37 is it, ‘. . . shall, at such intervals as may be suitable, consider whether the degree of the pensioner’s disablement has altered . . .’
Essex is not the first police pension authority to use a misreading of the Regulations to support a false claim that it has a ‘duty to review’. It is true there is a duty to ‘consider’ at ‘suitable intervals’ whether there is any alteration in degree of disablement, but forces divert from the intention and purpose of regulation 37 when they leap ahead of this simple, restricted, conditional duty.
Mr Kirby’s letter tells us,
‘. . . the process requires the involvement of the pension authority’s selected medical practitioner’ and ‘In order to assess the degree of disablement the selected medical practitioner will need to take account of your skills and qualifications and what kind of employment you could undertake . . .’
Now to be fair to Mr Kirby, it could be that he genuinely, but mistakenly, thinks that the PPA can only properly ‘consider’ matters as per regulation 37 if it gathers in all the information it asks for in the questionnaire and gets their SMP involved in analysing it.
Trouble is, Mr Kirby is asking, sorry, requiring, pensioners to hand over information the PPA has no right to demand. Nor can he involve the SMP until the PPA is in a position to be considering revising an injury pension. As things stood at the time Mr Kirby wrote his letter, the PPA could have no reason at all to think that any pensioner had experienced an alteration in their degree of disablement.
A PPA has no legal authority, or ‘power’ as Mr Kirby would describe it, to require any information from former officers.
IODPA advises any Essex pensioner who has received the above letter, questionnaire and Annex from Mr Kirby not to respond to hand over any information, or give the permissions asked for.