focus on europe

British Australian Pensioner Association Newsletter No 25 - July 2006

Also see Printable pdf version
There is also a printable version of our Membership/Contribution form for your use
Editor - yeomanoz@westnet.com.au
Index to Newsletter
Consortium - Together we are Stronger Tony Bockman of CABP - The Way(s) Ahead James Nelson
Legal Developments Brian Havard - Timms interview Derrick Prance - Early Day Motions - Blair's visit
Our Letter Writers - Demonstration - Kim Beazley - Finances
Stop Press Our Petition - Absurdity

Significant news
BAPA has teamed-up with all the world expatriate pensioner associations with the objective  of the final  extinction of  the frozen pension regime. 

Consortium

We have now become part of a team of British expatriate pensioner groups who have combined forces to take our case to the European Court of Human Rights in the Hague.

The members of the consortium, led by the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners are:
The British Pensioners' Association - Western Canada - The South African Alliance of British Pensioners - The British Australian Pensioner Association & British Pensions in Australia.

The methods used by the team will be a combination of new litigation before the European Court of Human Rights, buttressed  by continuing legal research, political lobbying & impacting on public opinion in the UK.

The litigation team is being led by the Canadian Alliance, who have retained the services of Phil Tunley of McCarthy Tétrault, (Toronto and London). The Barrister is Tim Otty of Essex Chambers in London, who has extensive experience in the field of Human Rights before the European Court. Whilst Phil Tunley is acting pro bono, Tim Otty will need to be paid for his services. It is inevitable that taking the case to culmination  will incur considerable expense which will have to be met. However we are reliably informed that, whatever the outcome, the British Government costs in opposing the case cannot be awarded against the Consortium.

With regard to the legal funding, it is not our intention to change our role by undertaking intensive recruiting and fund-raising. In our case, both functions will continue to be carried out through our existing membership. In addition to making financial contributions our major role will, as previously, be in the fields of research and lobbying with which we have year-by-year steadily advanced the cause.

Our research team is already working on the papers supplied to us by the Court. These include witness statements and the arguments advanced by the 12 named pensioner applicants, selected by the Consortium to be the principal complainants.  We are also scrutinising the response of the UK Government to the Consortium's complaint. In July, Counsel for the Consortium will be required to file the counter-response to the Government's justification for their stance.

Where  individuals or groups of members wish to do more active recruiting or fund-raising toward reaching our goal in these new circumstances, please let us know what kind of support and facilities you may need.

Where  individuals or groups of members wish to do more active recruiting or fund-raising toward reaching our goal in these new circumstances, please let us know what kind of support and facilities you may need.

Now that we have finally completed taking the case for parity through the whole of the British legal system, a requirement forced upon us by the UK before we could approach Europe, it is possible that some of you, our members, with friends or past associates in high places might be able to encourage financial sponsorship for our cause.

We  know you will all share  the re-invigoration this new move gives us.

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Together we are stronger
By Tony Bockman, Chairman, Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners

On behalf of the CABP, and the new Consortium of associations supporting the frozen pensioner discrimination case in the European Court of Human Rights, I would like to express a big “THANK-YOU” to BAPA for its decision to join.

We now have five associations in the Consortium, two in Australia, BAPA and BPiA, one in South Africa, SAABP and two in Canada, BPAWC and CABP. Together, these five organisations identify almost 25,000 members openly supporting the case in Strasbourg and while this represents only 5% or so of those affected by the UK Government's discriminatory policy, it demonstrates the collective support of these organisations towards bringing an end to this outrageous and inhumane disparity that has been suffered for decades by almost half a million frozen pensioners around the world.

Each association brings its particular areas of expertise. BAPA has long been recognised for its research capabilities on the frozen pensions issue and it is good to see that it can now share that area of expertise with the other Consortium Partners. In fact, two “senior applicants”, who indeed have their own cases on the books of the Court, can now be counted in the membership lists of the Consortium, BAPA's own Brian Havard and CABP's John Larke.

In the House of Lords debate, Lord Goodhart said, “I do not know whether there is any possibility that this case might be taken from your Lordships' House to Strasbourg. If there is any possibility, I certainly believe that there would be a real chance of victory …”. Yes my friends, the tide may well be turning in our favour. We have an excellent legal team in place as well as a growing Consortium. Welcome once again to BAPA. Together we ARE stronger.
Tony Bockman, Chairman of CABP

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The way(s)ahead

Joining the Consortium has given BAPA two new ways to help the cause for equal treatment.

1. Helping to finance the case
2. Making observations on the government submission to help the barrister sharpen his tools.

We will still, of course, pursue the other ways we have been using since BAPA first started: political lobbying, publicity, liaison with other pensioner organisations. In this issue you will see short reports on some of these activities. I have submitted a paper to the Works & Pension Committee on the subject of Pension Reform, mentioning pension freezing, of course. Following that I was invited to submit a short paper on the government White Paper. In this case it was not appropriate to deal with pension freezing. Instead I tried to make some wise observations on aspects of the proposed reforms, from an actuary's perspective.

Thanks are due to our hard-working committee, all of whom have different responsibilities. When a committee member, or any supporter, comes forward with an idea that seems to have legs, they are entitled to "own" the project and run with it using whatever help they need. So if you have a good idea, let me know and we will see if we can use it in our campaign.
James Nelson, President BAPA

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Legal developments

CABP has provided BAPA with copies of the Consortium submission to the European Court of Human Rights together with HMG’s response, and has invited our comments based on our 15 years of research and campaigning.

HMG clearly plans to rely on their long submission to the House of Lords, containing all the usual arguments, to which CABP lawyers can respond without difficulty. We are suggesting several enhancements to the Consortium submission: International Practice, setting out the very supportive findings of the German Constitutional Court in a case almost identical to ours. Age Discrimination, because HMG had included 'age' in its Study Guide to HRA as one of the grounds protected by Article 14.

A 97 y.o. friend is being deprived of 85% of his pension entitlement, yet the saving is less than 1% of the pensions' budget. HMG uses the Mueller precedent, but omits para 32: 'It is true that, in some cases, a substantial reduction of the amount of the pension could be regarded as affecting the very substance of the right to retain the benefit of the old age insurance system'.

Article 6 of the Convention requires: 'In the determination of his civil rights and obligations …, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law…' But the common feature of all the judgments save Lord Carswell's was an abject deference to Parliament, calling into question the courts' impartiality.

Finally I have proposed to the Consortium lawyers that every effort should be made to use my two personal applications to Strasbourg, the first of which is dated July 1997, eight years earlier than Carson and deserving of a much higher priority. I believe that a determined application to the ECourtHR by an experienced barrister to have my application restored to the lists could be successful, resulting not just in a much earlier hearing date, thus benefiting all frozen pensioners, but giving the frozen pensioner case a moral ascendancy.
Brian Havard BAPA

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Timms interview

After several years of correspondence with a number of Pension Ministers (there have been many during this governments reign in office) I finally persuaded Stephen Timms to be interviewed by Peter Morris (our vice president living in England) and myself while I was on holiday in Europe.

The interview was set for 11.10 am on the 18th April and Peter called for me in Uxbridge where I was staying, and with Peter at the wheel we navigated our way across North  London to arrive at our rendezvous in good time.

This proved to be not the carpeted splendour of the House of Commons where I had hoped to discuss the future of thousands of frozen pensioners, but a row of lock up shops most of which were shuttered and locked and due for demolition. Stephens office was situated in the middle, still locked and shuttered….An already chilly morning suddenly grew colder, and if it was intended to demonstrate Stephen’s insistence that the Government would not change its mind over pensions no matter what, then it partially succeeded. Inside was no better. Two wooden chairs and a table behind which eventually sat Mr Timms with his laptop already opened.

Unbelievably Stephen had prohibited the media to be present, and with the threat of cancellation of the meeting held over us if they were present we had reluctantly agreed to his terms. Not the sort of democratic demand I had expected from any Party, least of all Labour

As our meeting was to be fairly brief I had previously prepared a list of questions on paper that I gave Stephen to read, requesting that I should receive his written replies in due course.

My own personal grievance was that I had never been notified that the SERP I had contributed towards for a number of years, that given the opportunity to opt out and into the private sector would be frozen.

The DWP had claimed that information regarding the SERP was freely available by way of leaflets/pamphlets held in various public offices throughout the UK. To test this claim I had called (just prior to meeting with Minister Timms) on the Town Hall, Civic Centre, Library and Post Office all situated in Uxbridge. All of who gave me a blank look. They held no information at all on the subject!  

The DWP in a recent letter directed to me, finally admitted that neither Employers nor Employees were informed that their SERP would be frozen in the event of moving abroad. They argue that it was not necessary to do so as the SERP was regarded as a Class A pension similar to the Aged State Pension.

This is of course absolute rubbish, they are clutching at straws. Last ditch effort!

And I tell you why.

SERPS was sold to us as an addition to the State Pension

SERP, unlike a Class A Pension was not mandatory enrolment.

SERP, unlike a Class A Pension could be opted out of.

SERP, unlike a Class A Pension was based as the name implies on earnings.

SERP, unlike a Class A pension enjoyed compensation if you opted out finding it was not financially viable

SERPS as the name implies was so misleading the DWP later changed the name to SP2 in an attempt to remove the misunderstanding that arose from the term “Earnings Related”

Even media experts claimed it should not be confused with the State Pension.

(Far to late for those of us already in the throes of immigrating.

There are more aspects about SERPS that disprove the DWP reasons for freezing. If you write to me I will tell you how to use them to your advantage.

The final outcome of our visit to Timms is that he has been elevated First Secretary to the Treasury and refuses to give me the written replies that I asked for. Telling me in fact to go back to square one and contact my own MP which I have done. My MP has promised to look into the matter and will attempt to arrange a meeting for me to meet the current pensions minister. But it doesn’t end there. I called upon the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Millbank and presented her with fresh evidence that hopefully will lead to those mislead over the SERP being compensated over their loss.

One of the last things we asked of Timms was whether he considered he had the moral right to refuse us our rightful pension. He said yes! We asked him a second time and he replied yes! I shall now be responding to an article in the press the same day as our meeting with Timms (the same press who were barred from our meeting) that some of those he refuses up-rated pensions to once stood up to their chests in water at Dunkirk, rifles held above their heads being shot at and dive bombed by the Germans. Or those who survived Dunkirk working the Burma Railroad suffering diarrhoea and Malaria and appalling conditions, appearing like skeletons when liberation arrived. The Bomber pilots and aircrew shot down in flames and taken prisoner. Not forgetting Men of the Merchant navy in convey 23 in Arctic conditions steaming through U-Boat infested waters in a race to supply the Russian war effort. And of course the Royal Navy who pulled many MN survivors from the icy waters suffering from frostbite after a few minutes in the sea. Finally  the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns and the storming of the Normandy beaches, on to Arnhem and the horrors of Belsen.

If you, like me, consider it an insult for Timms to say we have no moral right to up-rated pensions then write to me and I will ensure that someone in authority reads them.

We must now wait and see.

Derrick Prance, BAPA

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Early Day motions

Since the last newsletter many of our members took part in a campaign to persuade British MPs to sign one or more Early Day Motions. An EDM is not likely to be debated and passed in Parliament, but it gives MPs an opportunity to support a point of view.
There were three of these put forward by different MPs, and we managed to persuade a good many of them to sign. The last one was an annulment motion, that might have resulted in the ending of the freezing regime.
Well it did not turn out that way, but there was a good
debate in one of the House standing committees. Only one person spoke against us - the government man - and he, of course, trotted out the usual excuses.
But it was not a futile exercise. In some cases we were able to unearth facile excuses and deal with them. As a result we put a list of fictions and facts on our web.  You will find some of them later in this newsletter.

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Blair’s visit

In the lead-up to the visit by Tony Blair during the Commonwealth Games, we organised a letter-writing campaign. We tried to contact every MHR and every Senator, asking them to take any opportunity that arose to mention pension freezing to Tony.
As expected, not many of them had the opportunity, but we got a good response from Kim Beazley. Several MHRs referred the matter to Malcolm Brough. Bruce Baird (Cook) wrote to the British High Commission with the expected result. But he did report that: Both the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs raised the issue with the British Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, whilst he was in the country “earlier this week”.
The Australian Government will continue to pursue this matter with the UK Government to try and achieve a better outcome for all UK pensioners in Australia.

One surprising result of our campaign was that some members of our own federal parliament actually did not know. Nobody had ever told them before.

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Our letter writers

Forty members responded to the call to action to write to members of Federal Parliament to ask that the “frozen pension” issue be raised with Tony Blair whilst he was visiting for the Commonwealth Games and also addressed Parliament. The efforts of these members resulted in at least 120 letters being sent to members of the House of Reps and the Senate. The letters were of the highest quality and set out clearly the personal issues involved. Many members received sympathetic replies and again our cause got very good coverage amongst Federal Parliamentarians.

What happened on the day – we heard from the British High Commissioner in Canberra that the issue was raised by both the Prime Minister Mr Howard and the Foreign Minister Mr Downer when they met Tony Blair. If you wrote to your MP or Senators you can still write again or perhaps visit them and ask what happened on the day – this will again raise the profile of this issue that is important to all of us.

Our President has also received an invitation to arrange a meeting with the responsible Minister of Family and Community Services – Mal Brough and we will be doing so when an opportunity arises.

Thanks to all the people who got involved and spent so much time writing letters. Thank you for including your personal stories in those letters – it makes them that much more effective.

Tony Walsh, BAPA

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Demonstration

Last March BPiA organised a demonstration outside Parliament House in Canberra on the occasion of Tony Blair’s visit. In the lead up to the occasion members of both BAPA and BPiA had carried out a mailing campaign to Australian MPs asking them to ensure that the British PM was made well aware of our objection to Britain’s Frozen Pension regime, and its effect on Australian taxpayers.
Dian Elvin attended on behalf of BAPA. Our small group of pensioners was sandwiched between demonstrators representing Falun Gong, under a large Chinese banner, and an Anti Iraq War group with loud speakers.

Jim Tilley, of BPiA, spoke up for our cause to reporters on the scene. ABC TV filmed the demonstration for the news, interviewed Jim, and then gave Jim and Dian a lift to the British High Commission in order to deliver the 700 letters, from British expatriate pensioners all over the world, to be presented to Tony Blair.
The official who accepted the letters promised to make sure they would be presented to him. Over the following weeks all letter writers received identical replies, not from Tony Blair but from a secretary at the British High Commission in Australia.

They were unintelligent and uninformed, but we had made our mark and must never stop trying.

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Kim beazley

In advance of Tony Blair’s visit this is what Kim Beazley, as Federal Opposition Leader had to say:
“The Australian Government must act on UK Pension indexation and take a stronger stand on Britain’s refusal to index pensions paid to expatriates living in Australia.” He said that more than 21,000 of his constituents were former UK residents and a lot were of pension age. Mr Beazley said he would raise the plight of his constituents who were being disadvantaged by Britain’s refusal to index their pensions.

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£ Finances $

During the 2005/06 financial year we received contributions from new and current members totalling close to $16,000. At the time of going to press we have not yet completed our audited accounts for the period but under the present circumstances we should give you a resume of our finances as we join the new Consortium in its approach to the European Court.

Our operating expenses during the year came to $4,984. This included printing and posting newsletters, PO Box costs and modest Bank fees and State taxes (about $130).

In addition we transferred £250 ($617) to our Vice President, Peter Morris, in Britain, as a float for meeting minor costs in the UK. Legal costs for the year came to £4,000 ($9,689).

Taking all the above into account we expect our year end audit to leave us a total reserve of about $60,000.
Of this we will make an immediate contribution to Consortium funds of £10,000 (about $25,000). There will, of course, be more to follow but, how much more will depend on how dedicated you, our members, are taking advantage of this great opportunity to take our case into Europe. It is going to cost a lot of money but, thank goodness, we, the appellants, will not have to meet defence costs - even if we were to lose.
However, let’s not even think about losing. This approach to Europe is what we have been waiting for, and fighting for, for the last 20 years. Be positive.

By pulling together we will win.

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Stop press

The petition was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday 27th, just before we closed the present issue for printing.
Peter Morris had worked on David Laws and his assistant tirelessly, and was finally rewarded. David Laws truncated our wording a bit, but he explained it all properly in his speech tabling the petition.

The petition was "laid on the table", which is the usual procedure.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I am delighted to present a petition on behalf of 2,333 individuals who are concerned about the existing arrangements for uprating the basic state pension for people who live abroad. At present, something like half of the individuals who live abroad do not receive any uprating of the basic state pension at all. That injustice could get considerably worse if the Government link the basic state pension to earnings without dealing with the existing injustice for those pensioners who live abroad.

The petition states:

The Petitioners therefore call on the House of Commons to urge the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to establish forthwith absolute parity in the payment of fully uprated pensions to all state pensioners.

To lie upon the Table.

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Absurdity

Here is an argument you might find useful when talking to friends, or writing to MPs and rellies. B... retired in 1991 and moved to Australia just before the 1991 increase. As a result his basic pension is £46.90. D.... is just about the same age as B.... He retired the same year with the same payment history, but did not move to Australia until after the 1997 increase. As a result, his pension is £62.45, which is about 1/3rd more than B... Gets.

Whatever else may be argued about the legitimacy of pension freezing it is irrational, to the point of absurdity, that pension freezing should depend not only on where you moved to, but when you moved.

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