Stepping down on doctor's orders

15th March 1996 at 00:00
Elaine Williams reports on the increase in teachers who seek early retirement through infirmity

The number of heads and deputy heads seeking early retirement on the grounds of ill health is expected to increase sharply this year.

Mike Beard, assistant secretary for salaries, pensions and conditions of service at the National Association of Head Teachers, said that his department has been receiving many more letters and phone calls from members considering ill-health retirement than it did during the first three months of last year.

The number of heads and deputies obtaining infirmity pensions reached 1,039 in 199495, compared with 948 the prevous year. There has also been a year-on-year increase in the number of teachers and college lecturers retiring through ill-health, much of it thought to be stress-related. In 19945 more than 6,000 teachers and lecturers received infirmity pensions, nearly three times as many as 10 years earlier. Figures for January and February from the Teachers' Pensions Agency indicate yet another upsurge in ill-health retirement applications from 432 and 470 respectively in 1995 to 461 and 608 this year.

The teaching unions last year became so alarmed by the dramatic jump in ill-health retirement applications and the high number of rejections by the Teachers' Pension Agency that they asked the TPA to supply a month-by-month breakdown of the 1995 figures.

This shows that in March and April there were 1,010 and 728 applications respectively, tailing slowly to 346 in December, to make a total of 6,025. There was a similarly dramatic rise in the number of rejections in spring 1995 232 in March and 198 in April, compared to only 30 in December due to greater stringency in the agency's method of vetting requests for invalidity pension. But many were later granted on appeal when the necessary medical evidence was supplied. In total, 6,276 awards were made, including a number held over from the previous year.

Elaine Goswell-Cross, the principal officer for pensions at the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers, said: "It is important that the medical evidence shows that there is a link with the job." And she warned that teachers must consider the consequences carefully and make proper assessment of the pension and lump sum they would be entitled to if they retired early.

The average number of teachers taking early retirement has soared by 68 per cent in the past decade, from 11,624 to 17,187. Only one in six primary and one in nine secondary teachers retire at the set age, and considering that two-thirds of all teachers are over 40, the future strain on the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme could be great indeed. Many local authorities are failing to pay out early-retirement enhancements which boost the number of years' service and so increase the lump sum and pension pay-outs. "In a lot of authorities the level of enhancement is being reduced year on year," Mike Beard said.

* Four companies out of a short list of six (Abbey National Benefit consultants; Capita; ITnet; Hartshead Solway; Colonial; CSL) have put in bids for the administration of the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, and an announcement is expected in April. Privatisation has been fiercely opposed by teachers' unions.

It is said that morale at the TPA which currently administers the scheme, "is at rock-bottom" due to the privatisation plans. A spokeswoman for the Public Service Tax and Commerce Union (formerly the National Union of Civil and Public Servants) said: "Our concern is that this whole process affects the quality of service to teachers."

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