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"This Should Have Been A Straightforward Case"

The States Complaints Board has slammed the government for an 'increasing failure to co-operate' after it ignored the board's recommendations when it came to a retired firefighter's pension.

The board concluded in 2020 that Stuart Newman was given a pension 10-20% lower than he should have been, but deputy chairman Stuart Catchpole says instead of paying what was due, the government chose to dig its heels in.

The board took 'the extremely unusual step' of holding a second hearing because it was so concerned with the government's response.

Mr. Newman emailed the Chief Fire Officer in February 2018 to ask for a pension valuation, but he was told they were on hold until May 2018 because of changes to the pension scheme.

It was decided later in the year to revalue pensions on the old criteria, when valuations were requested before 1 May 2018.

Despite that, Mr. Newman's re-evaluation request was rejected because the department had no record of any phone calls about his case before 29 May 2018.

Therefore, he was assessed at the post-evaluation rate which led to him getting a pension 10-20% lower than it would have been.

The Treasury was asked to pay him the extra money, but the Complaints Board says the department insisted there was no direct documented evidence of the request being made - and that 'lack of proof' was a reason not to accept he was telling the truth about contacting them.

Mr. Catchpole says this demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about how it may be 'proved'.

"Mr. Newman’s case has raised, and continues to raise, issues of deep concern and importance, both for Mr. Newman and for the proper administration of public sector-related powers and functions in Jersey.

Sadly, the general approach of the Treasury and the Pensions Committee of Management – except for the Minister’s agreement to appear personally at the second hearing – is symptomatic of the increasing failure of elected and appointed officials, public servants and public bodies to co-operate with the Complaints Panel. Whenever it has upheld complaints, they have simply ignored the findings and recommendations.

This should have been a straightforward case."

He adds that verbal confirmation had been accepted in the case of another member of staff, whose line manager happened to be a member of the management committee.

"In other words, an oral confirmation by an employee to a line manager – which is exactly what Mr. Newman had done – was accepted simply because the line manager in the other case happened to be a member of the Committee of Management.

That is a prime example of 'It’s not what you know, but who you know.'

It is inappropriate in modern administration or policy-making and is obviously unfair and unlawful.

It only serves to underline the arbitrary and unjust manner in which Mr. Newman’s case has been handled."

The Complaints Panel is due to be replaced by a Public Services Ombudsman at some point. It would investigate complaints independently and was another recommendation in the Jersey Care Inquiry report.

The panel says until this happens, islanders who are reliant on the current system 'are being effectively denied their rights to effective independent oversight of the administrative process.'

Several recommendations have been made, including that by whatever means is lawful, the States should give Mr. Newman 'appropriate financial redress for the manifest injustice to which he has been subjected.'

The new Treasury Minister, Deputy Ian Gorst, says he will consider the more detailed findings as a matter of urgency.

"My officers in the Treasury and Committee of management work hard and in good faith to administer the pensions schemes in accordance governing legislation agreed by the States Assembly.

I take these matters, and our responsibilities, seriously and this Council of Ministers will deliver a public services ombudsman by statute and with powers to direct.

I have also asked for the acceleration of proposals already being developed for the Financial Service Ombudsman to become the final level of appeal for matters reflecting to the administration of the public employees pension schemes.

This should replace the current, unsatisfactory system with which no-one is happy."

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