A further education lecturer's High Court victory over pension rights may bring "copycat" claims costing colleges thousands of pounds, lawyers warned this week, Tony Tysome writes.
The court's ruling that Birmingham College of Food was liable to cover some of former employee Valerie Cook's enhanced pension, even though she retired the day before the college gained independent status, was hailed as a test case triumph by union leaders. Lawyers acting for Ms Cook confirmed that similar claims could follow from the many lecturers across the country who retired under similar circumstances. But employers immediately denied that the ruling held any significance for the sector as a whole, and said they expected the decision to be overturned on appeal.
The suit was brought by Ms Cook following a squabble between Birmingham City Council and the college over who was liable to cover enhanced pension payments for six years and 206 days.
After the college transferred from local authority control, the city council agreed to pay just five years of the enhanced pension. The college claimed that responsibility for the remaining payments should fall to the council, since Ms Cook was no longer the college's employee "at the moment of transfer". But Cheri Booth QC, wife of Labour leader Tony Blair, representing the council, successfully argued that colleges were liable to honour contracts made with those employed up to the day before incorporation. Mr Justice Scott-Baker declared that the college should cover the additional one-year-and-206-days pension payments. Clive Howard, of London solicitors Russell Jones and Walker, acting for Ms Cook, said the college would be ordered to pay costs of "well into the thousands", and that other institutions could be faced with similar claims.
But the Colleges Employers' Forum said the particular circumstances of Ms Cook's case made it unlikely that a "flood of claims" would follow.