Ill health retirement vs Capability Dismissal

Disabled police officers have understandably become increasingly concerned about their employment status following the police pay and conditions reviews conducted by Sir Tom Winsor. Fitness testing, Limited Duties and Capability Dismissal are all new concepts which appear to disadvantage disabled officers when compared to other protected characteristics.

However, the imbalance could be slightly redressed if only Sir Tom Winsor’s review was revisited, to ensure important elements haven’t been over looked, possibly inadvertently, hopefully not intentionally.

To illustrate my point, we should look at Recommendation 39 and the supporting evidence within the review. Winsor rightly identified the current situation of ‘restricted officers’ could be untenable, with too many officers on restricted duties and crucially, not enough officers receiving an ill health retirement pension.

At the time of writing his review, Winsor identified that although the National Policing Plan for 2003-2006 required a reduction in the number of officers being retired through ill health grounds, the target was still set at 6.5 retirements per 1000 officers, a figure set by the Government Actuaries Department. However, his research revealed that forces were only retiring on ill health grounds at a rate of 2.2 retirements per 1000 officers, significantly less than the recommended level.

One of the biggest changes to police pay and conditions over the past 5 years has undoubtedly been the changes to police officer pensions. For this to happen, pension regulations would have been reviewed, consulted on and eventually re-written. The ill health retirement process sits firmly within pension regulations for all three pension schemes, and so it is conceivable that as part of the pensions review, ill health retirement would have also been reviewed.

So what changes occurred to Ill health retirement regulations? What instructions have been given to Chief Officers about retiring more officers on ill health grounds? What review took place of the Selected Medical Practitioner and Police Medical Appeals Board Process?

As far as I can tell the answer appears to be none.

In which case the next question is: why is change needed?

Simple: as a Federation rep I have had the responsibility of representing and advising officers on ill health retirement and appeals processes. My usual advice to officers wanting to seek ill health retirement is this: Your chances of success are low – around about 25% presently. There is little point trying for an ill health retirement pension unless you have tried every possible treatment available for your condition, in order to be considered as permanently disabled. Even if your own GP or consultant hasn’t recommended or even offered the treatment, because you can guarantee the SMP or Appeal Board will deny you are permanently disabled without having tried it. This can often be in spite of the fact your own specialist is infinitely more qualified in that particular field of medicine than those assessing your case.

Even having exhausted every possible pill, experimental therapy and ancient tribal medicine from the far reaches of Peru, your chances of being deemed as having a permanent disability and therefore eligible for ill health retirement, are still only as good as a flutter on a roulette wheel.

Capability Dismissal is now being pitched as a tool that will be used on the ‘minority of officers’, to plug a gap that exists where officers are not eligible for ill health retirement. It is being claimed that only a mere fraction of disabled officers will be affected.

This I am sure, is said with absolute belief in this statement; however, unless the ill health pension implications above are fully understood, reviewed and rectified, this will absolutely not be the case. In fact, there is potential in the future for this to apply to the ‘vast majority’ of disabled officers if the ill health retirement process is not reviewed, especially as it will become the cost effective follow-up to ill health retirement, either intentionally or not.

If ill health retirement rates remain at approximately 25% success rate (PFEW estimations), the other 75% of officers who are unsuccessful will surely be walking the lonely trail into the deep dark depths of dismissal from the police service. It is not inconceivable that 100% of those officers will be disabled.

The cynicism in us all led us to assume that ‘X factor’ pay reductions were just another tool to help Forces to save money, by cutting the wages of disabled officers. It is now becoming clear that for every £1 a force saves in doing this, they are likely to have to pay out several times that amount in defending litigation, so not really the money saving tool some may have hoped for.

Our focus must now turn to the second half of the Limited Duties regulations, Capability Dismissal. This equally contentious concept is already undergoing consultation, a process that the Disabled Police Association has a front row seat at, that will soon draw to a close once final proposals are taken to the Police Arbitration Board (PAB) for final sign-off within the coming months.

Requests have been made on more than one occasion to review the ill health retirement process.

This is where the real threat lies to disabled officers. At least with an ‘X factor’ pay reduction, ‘they’ only manage to chew off a small piece, but you still manage to get away to fight another day. You will still have a job. It may require some very tough lifestyle changes, but for most it will be achievable.

Capability Dismissal on the other hand would see you dismissed from your Force on the grounds of your ‘capability’ to perform the role of the office of Constable, having not been eligible for ill health retirement.

If ill health retirement isn’t addressed soon, Capability Dismissal won’t just chew a piece off – it will swallow you whole.

DPA National Secretary