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Time to lobby MPs and query pension reform

Most teachers have heard about the Government's proposals to change the early retirement provisions of the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme from April next year, but not all might have realised the full implications or considered what action they might take to influence the proposals.

If approved, these changes will seriously affect teachers of all ages, both financially and in terms of career progression. Young teachers will find that promotion will be slower, and moving to another school will become more difficult. Those who are under 50 may find themselves deprived of up to 10 years of pension entitlement. Those aged 50, or over, have just a few weeks to make a decision that will determine their income for the rest of their lives. Teachers threatened with redundancy face a bleak future. Governing bodies and LEAs will lose out badly as these changes will make it much harder for them to manage the staffing of their schools effectively. Because of this pupils will also suffer.

If the Government were proposing a cut in current salary the profession would be up in arms, yet these pension proposals constitute just such a cut in our future income. The Government's consultation period on these proposals ends on January 17, so I urge all teachers to act now, while there is still some possibility of amending the proposals by: * lobbying their MPs and asking the opposition parties to query the changes;

* writing directly to the School Teachers' Pay and Pensions Division at the DFEE, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, SW1 3BT;

* pressing the teaching unions to examine the legality of what the Government wants to do. Is the consultation process itself valid, given that the Department for Education and Employment has recently announced reduced recruitment targets that depends on reduced early retirement? What is the legal position regarding voluntary contributions that are being made on the basis that additional pension will be payable from 50?

I am strongly opposed to the proposals but if they are to be introduced, it would be much fairer for them to be phased in over a period of years as is being done, for example, with the change to the state pension age for women.

In private-sector schemes such proposals would generally only be applied to future service pensions while pension already earned for past service would remain subject to existing rights and entitlements.

Last year, the Government strengthened the law safeguarding the pension rights of members of private-sector schemes by passing the Pensions Act. The current proposals for the TSS ignore both the content and the spirit of that legislation and emphasise the peculiar status of our scheme. I hope that employers and the teaching unions will seek independent actuarial advice on the constitution and funding of the TSS so that eventually we may get a modern, properly-funded scheme with full protection for members' rights.

KAY JEFFS 10 Hunters Close, Aldwick, Bognor Regis

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