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Firefighters 2015 scheme
Thinking of leaving or left the scheme?

Opting out

You can opt out of FPS 2015 at any time if you do not wish to be a member. To do so you must give a signed, written notice to the fire and rescue authority. The option would be considered to have been exercised on the date the notice is received by the authority.

You can find a copy of the opt-out form here.

If you opt out before the end of 3 months' continuous Scheme employment, or within 3 months of automatic re-enrolment, you would be treated as not having been a member in pensionable employment during this period and would receive a refund of the contributions you have paid for the period. These would be repaid by your employer.

If you opt out 3 months or more after a continuous period of service in Scheme employment or 3 or more months after automatic re-enrolment, you would normally be treated as having ceased pensionable service in the Scheme on the first day of the pay period immediately after that in which you opted out. You would become a deferred member of the Scheme from that date and you would cease to have any further cover under FPS 2015, other than that which is provided to a deferred member.

Seek independent financial advice if you are thinking about opting out. You would save the cost of contributions but may pay more by way of tax (contributions attract tax relief). Your dependants would also cease to have pension cover.

You would, however, continue to be covered by the provisions of the Firefighters’ Compensation Scheme in the event of a qualifying injury.

Opting out and automatic enrolment

If you opt out of the Scheme and later change your mind, you can give the authority your written, signed election to rejoin, provided you satisfy the membership conditions at that time.

Also, under “automatic enrolment” requirements introduced by the Pensions Act 2008 and which impact on all UK employers, the authority has to periodically re-enrol optants-out back into a pension scheme. You have the right to opt out again if this is your choice. Provided your option is made within 3 months of the date of automatic re-enrolment, you would be entitled to a refund of any contributions paid since that date.

Can I have a refund?

You can have a refund of contributions only if you opt out of the Scheme within 3 months of joining or of being automatically enrolled. The contributions you have paid would be returned through payroll with appropriate tax.

Deferred benefits

If you cease to be an active member of the Scheme before you become entitled to the payment of retirement benefits, and have at least 3 months' qualifying service or have had a transfer value paid into your pension account from another occupational pension scheme, you would become a deferred member of the Scheme.

Your active member's account would be closed and a deferred member's account would be set up. The deferred member's account would contain your accrued earned pension and the relevant amount of index adjustment.

Should you return to Scheme membership within the 5 years after leaving, the deferred member's account would be closed and your active member's account would be re-established as if you had remained in pensionable service during the break but had received no pensionable pay for that period.

If you do not return to active membership your pension will remain in the deferred member's account until you become eligible to draw it.

You would become eligible to draw it on age grounds at deferred pension age, which is the same as your State pension age, or age 65 if that is higher. If you have an added pension account the added pension, plus indexation under the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 must be transferred to your deferred member's account and paid together with your deferred pension.

If you wish, you could give written notice to the authority that you would like to receive your deferred pension at or after age 55 and before deferred pension age. In these circumstances, however, the pension would be subject to an early retirement reduction based on factors provided by the Scheme actuary. These factors can be found here (pdf 108KB).

Or if, before reaching deferred pension age, you suffer from ill-health to the extent that you would be incapable of undertaking regular employment and this incapacity will continue at least until deferred pension age, you could request early payment of the deferred pension on ill-health grounds. The decision as to entitlement would be made by the fire and rescue authority after they have considered the written opinion of an Independent Qualified Medical Practitioner.

If awarded on ill-health grounds, your entitlement to the early payment would be kept under review by the authority until you reach deferred pension age. Should the authority consider that you had become capable of undertaking regular employment, payment of the pension would cease. If the pension continues in payment, no further review would be required once deferred pension age is reached; if payment ceases on review, it would be restored at deferred pension age.

Part of the pension can be commuted to provide a lump sum or allocated to provide benefits for a dependant in the event of the member's death. This could be in addition to any survivor pensions provided under the Scheme to a spouse, civil partner or eligible cohabiting partner or child.

Transfer of pension rights out of the scheme

If you leave FPS 2015 because you leave employment with your fire and rescue authority, or because you opt out of the Scheme, it may be possible to transfer your accrued pension rights to another pension scheme or arrangement.

There are various requirements and limitations in relation to the transfer of pension rights: some are contained within the Scheme regulations and some are set out in Finance and Pension Scheme Acts. The transfer would take place only if you so instruct, if the authority are satisfied that it would be permissible under the various sets of transfer rules, and if the administrators of the arrangement to which the transfer would be paid are prepared to accept it.

Initially you would make a written request to the authority to provide a "statement of entitlement". This would set out details of the transfer value - a sum representing the capital value of your pension rights, assessed in accordance with guidance provided by the Scheme Actuary. The figure will be linked to a "guarantee date" and may have to be reassessed if action is not taken within this time scale.

Be certain that you understand the effect of the transfer of pension rights, e.g. the type and amount of pension the transfer will "buy" in the receiving scheme or arrangement, and the terms under which you can draw it.

If you wish to proceed with the transfer you must give written notice to the authority, stating the scheme or arrangement to which the transfer payment is to be made, and taking note of any time limits as advised by the authority in which you may do this.

The above principles would also apply in respect of a transfer of pension rights to fire and rescue authorities in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, if you leave employment with one English fire and rescue authority to transfer to another, where you remain a member of FPS 2015, different transfer arrangements will apply. No transfer payment would be made. Your former authority will provide you with a certificate setting out the entries in your pension accounts held by them and give details of your period of pensionable employment. This would be done automatically if there is no break between your employments. If there has been a break in pensionable service, but not exceeding 5 years, the certificate would be provided at your request. You must give the certificate to your new authority so that they can transfer the details to your new pension account with them.

Special arrangements apply if you hold more than one employment with either or both authorities; you may have to choose from which account, or to which account, the details should be transferred. Your new authority would explain this to you.

If the break in pensionable service is 5 years or more, you would retain your deferred pension account with your previous authority – a transfer to a new active account would not be possible. But if you had an added pension account, it may be possible to transfer the entries in that account to your new employment.

You should check the details in the certificate issued by your former authority. If you believe the details to be incorrect you have the right to challenge their accuracy; if you remain dissatisfied you would have a right of appeal under Internal Dispute Resolution Procedures.

Also, your new authority will check with your previous authority that all the appropriate details have been supplied and will then confirm that the transfer has taken place. Your previous authority will close all the pension accounts containing entries which have transferred.

Appeals & complaints

Right of appeal

If a member of FPS 2015, or a dependant, is dissatisfied with a decision made by a fire and rescue authority (or the failure to make a decision) there are rights of appeal available. There is an appeal procedure for someone who is dissatisfied with a determination that was based on a medical opinion, where they believe the fault lies in the medical opinion. And for other grievances the authority must have in place arrangements for Internal Dispute Resolution Procedures (“IDRP”) based on the requirements of the Pensions Act 1995.

Looking at the medical appeal route first, if the authority is considering whether or not to make an award of an ill-health pension to a firefighter (or to allow early payment of a deferred pension on health grounds), they must first obtain the written opinion of an independent qualified medical practitioner (“IQMP”) as to whether the person is permanently disabled for the duties of his/her role and, if so, whether he/she would be capable of any other regular employment. The authority must notify the firefighter of their decision as to award and supply a copy of the medical opinion upon which their determination is based.

If the person is dissatisfied with the award and believes the problem lies in the medical opinion, then he/she can appeal against the opinion to a Board of Medical Referees. (Before this stage, however, if the member provides new evidence of a medical nature and the member and the authority agree, the IQMP can be asked to review the medical opinion in the light of the new evidence.)

A similar process applies if an ill-health award is reviewed and the person is dissatisfied with the outcome and in any other circumstances where a decision has been made, based on medical evidence.

If the grievance of a FPS 2015 member, a dependant, or a pension credit member relates to a decision made by the fire and rescue authority unrelated to the content of a medical opinion, or is in respect of a non-medical aspect of the opinion, he/she can use IDRP to seek resolution. The grievance will be considered by the authority and a written response made.

Full details of local medical appeal procedures, the IDRP process, and relevant time limits can be supplied by your authority.

The Pensions Advisory Service ("TPAS")

TPAS is an independent voluntary organisation which provides information and guidance on pension matters. They are available at any time to assist occupational pension scheme members and beneficiaries in connection with any pension query they may have or any difficulty which they have failed to resolve with pension scheme administrators. Their service is free. TPAS cannot enforce pensions action but, if felt appropriate, could recommend a person to put his/her case to the Pensions Ombudsman. They can be contacted at:

The Pensions Advisory Service,
11, Belgrave Road,
London, SW1V 1RB

Telephone helpline: 0300 123 1047
Website: www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk

The Pension Ombudsman

The Pensions Ombudsman can investigate a pension scheme member's complaint of maladministration or a dispute of fact or law between a scheme member and pension scheme managers or employer. However, the Ombudsman cannot help if court proceedings have begun in respect of the dispute, under any of the FBS rules (1992/2006 or 2015).

The Ombudsman will expect the case to have first been put through Internal Dispute Resolution Procedures. Also, a complainant who writes to the Ombudsman direct will normally be requested to have the case dealt with initially by The Pensions Advisory Service.

The Pensions Ombudsman can be contacted at:

The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman,
11 Belgrave Road,
London, SW1V 1RB

Telephone: 020 7630 2200
Website: www.pensions-ombudsman.org.uk

The Pension Regulator

The Pensions Regulator is a regulatory body which came into existence on 6 April 2005 having been set up under the Pensions Act 2004 (replacing the earlier Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority). It ensures that pension scheme members' interests are protected and that schemes comply with the law.

For example, the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 includes requirements for the governance and administration of public service schemes (including FPS 1992, 2006 and 2015), and for oversight by The Pensions Regulator. Fire and rescue authorities must comply with The Pension Regulator's Code of Practice No.14 which sets out a framework for governance and administration.

At central level there must be a Scheme Advisory Board and at local level a Pension Board with responsibility for assisting the authority ("scheme manager") to comply with Scheme regulations and other legislation relating to the governance of the Scheme.

The Local Pension Board must have an equal number of employee and employer representatives, a minimum of 4 in total, 2 from each side. They must be conversant with the Scheme rules and have an understanding of the law relating to pensions. It is not a decision-making board although it can review decisions made under the Scheme rules.

At the time of writing this guide, some of the Pensions Regulator's requirements for the Firefighters' Pension Schemes are still in draft form, but your fire and rescue authority can keep you informed about local arrangements

The Pensions Regulator deals with issues about pension schemes as a whole. It does not deal with queries about an individual’s pension benefits but recommends that a person seeking free information and advice on all types of pensions should approach The Pensions Advisory Service.

Website: www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk