Blot on the landscape

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Harry Zavros is facing the loss of his home and beloved garden. A disastrous pensions mix-up means that former part-timer, now 60, may have to sell up to plug a huge shortfall in his pension, which he only discovered last year.

A further education lecturer in economics, Mr Zavros worked part-time from 1972 to 1982, the first 10 years of his career. When he moved to a job at the Cambridge regional college in 1997, he received a letter from the human resources department with a pensions estimate. He was told that the figures were "subject to confirmation", but his years of service were reckoned at 24.86, his lump sum amounted to pound;19,146 and his annual pension to Pounds 6,382. At that rate, Mr Zavros estimated he could expect a final pension of around pound;12,000 a year, as his salary was rising.

To his horror, when he applied for voluntary redundancy last year, eight years after the letter, he found that his years of service had dwindled to 20, and his pension would be only around pound;6,000. "It was a big shock.

You think you have 31 years' service but it's only 20; you're counting on a pension of pound;12,000 and it's only half that."

It appears that, as a part-timer, Mr Zavros did not realise that he had to elect to join the Teachers' Pensions Scheme, and that some records of his years of service while he was employed full-time have gone missing. Sadly, he has been advised that he has no legal redress as the original pensions estimate was "subject to confirmation" and he has not kept his pay slips to prove when he worked.

Mr Zavros's biggest regret is that the college did not give him an accurate estimate earlier so that he could have boosted his pension by buying past added years. "Instead of paying into an AVC scheme, I'd have bought extra years of service while my salary was lower and the cost would not have been so prohibitive," he said. "Buying one extra year on my current salary would cost around pound;8,000."

Mr Zavros now believes he will have to sell his home to fill this gap. This would be a tragedy as he is a passionate gardener. His acre of paradise, with its collection of rare yellow peonies, has been open to the public for 23 years as part of the National Gardens Scheme to raise money for charity.

He is trying to put the whole affair behind him, but he cannot help feeling angry: "It's changed my life. I now have to work until I'm 65 and I may have to sell the house as I will not be able to afford the yearly pound;2,000 council tax on my pension.

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