COLLEGE lecturers on the verge of retirement or redundancy could lose out under proposed changes in the teachers' pension scheme, unions say.
Further education teachers, who retire on March 31, the end of the financial year, could be left out of changes to pensions due to take effect on April 1.
The Teachers' Superannuation Working Party has written to the Department for Education and Employment pointing out that "in some sectors, notably further education, there are redundancies at the end of the financial year that take effect from March 31".
At stake is the family's entitlement to a full pension if the teacher dies within five years of retiring. Currently the pension stops when the teacher dies.
On the downside, the amendments also include the introduction of actuarially-reduced pensions (ARPs) - whereby people retiring betweem the age of 55 and 60 have their pensions calculated on a proportionate basis.
Currently, employers decide whether to grant "premature retirement compensation" to staff, which means paying a percentage of their pension costs for the rest of their life. For example, employers granting premature retirement to a 55-year-old pay 27.2 per cent of their pension for life and 16. per cent of their lump sum. Under ARP, the pensioner would not receive employers' contributions which could reduce their pension by about a quarter.
The number of premature retirements "plummeted" from 19,061 in 1997-8 to 2,917 last year, according to Sue Johnson, Association of Teachers and Lecturers' pensions officer. She says the new arrangements would remove the "moral responsibility" on employers to contribute.
Sue Johnson, says her department deals with a "flurry of enquiries" from people being made redundant on March 31 every year. She believes there should be a central fund for affordable premature retirement provided by the Further Education Funding Council. This, she said, would be similar to the FEFC's "restructuring fund" which was set up in 1993 and paid out nearly pound;80 million to meet early retirement and redundancy costs before it was wound up in 1997.
Ann Cotterell, pensions officer at the lecturers' union NATFHE, said: "We don't expect many people to be affected but we are trying to get the message across to anyone leaving that they should stay in service until after April 1.
"We are concerned that people might be pressured into leaving and get a reduced pension," she said.