Tuesday 18th August 2020
The Armed Forces is often referred to as a family and members of the family tend to help each other. Even when service ends, it is important to help where possible.
In this short article Mary Petley of the Forces Pension Society looks at the work of the Veterans Gateway (VG) in general and the Society’s role as a VG referral partner in particular.
The VG is a consortium of charities, officially launched in June 2017, to channel veterans’ questions and problems to the right organisation to provide answers or more concrete help. Some of the areas covered are employment, housing, mental health and finance – and that is where the Forces Pension Society comes in.
Although the Forces Pension Society is a membership organisation, we have always sought to act on behalf of the whole Armed Forces community and are proud to be the referral partner to whom all Armed Forces pension enquiries from veterans are channelled. This work is not funded by our Members but by a grant from the Office of Veterans Affairs. We have fielded over 5,500 enquiries to date – they are not complex like the type of questions we get from our Members; each takes an average of 15 minutes to answer. Some of these queries are simply seeking facts – ‘how do I claim my pension?’ or ‘I am living abroad. Will I still be able to claim my pension?’ – but, for others, our work can make a more material difference.
Many people who left the Armed forces in the 1970 and 80s did so without understanding the newly introduced provisions which, for the first time, entitled people leaving less than 22 years’ service after the age of 18 as an Other Rank (16 years after age 21 for an Officer) to a preserved pension and lump sum payable at age 60. Over 40% of VG enquirers have asked the questions ‘Am I entitled to anything as a result of my service?’ – and over 750 of those who asked this question appear to have an entitlement. We do follow up on this latter group. Some are shy and will not tell us what their pension awards are, but others happily allow us to post anonymous accounts of their unexpected windfalls to encourage other people to ask the same question that they did. The average pension we are ‘discovering’ is about £3,500 which means that the tax-free lump sum is about £10,500. Some of those receiving good news have been in their late 60s and 70s. For example Steven, who left in 1979 after 6 years’ service, received a pension of £3k, a lump sum of £9K and 3 years’ back pension, and Kev, who left in 1980 after 10 years’ service, received a pension of £4K, a lump sum of £12K and 5 years’ back pension. They really wish that the VG, with all its information sheets and helpful staff at the Contact Centre, had been introduced sooner.
It is not only unclaimed pensions that we help with – 10% of our enquiries are about family issues. In several cases we have provided immediate advice to bereaved families and in one case we guided and assisted a divorcee in claiming a child’s pension for her son (who had remained close to his Dad), whose existence had not been brought to the attention of Veterans UK when her ex-husband’s executor had notified Veterans UK of his death. The veteran’s son received an annual pension plus back-pension to the date of his Dad’s death.
In all of these cases, the sums involved are not vast, but they WILL make a real difference to the quality of life of the individual.
You might wonder why we are telling YOU all this. After all, you understand modern pension provision, don’t you? – but it brings me back to family. Many of you will have older family members who served or will know older people who served. Some may require help or advice in one of the areas covered by the VG (veteransgateway.org.uk) and will thank you for alerting them to the splendid service they provide.
If you want to know more about the Forces Pension Society, visit us at forcespensionsociety.org