In the case of Hamilton -v- Monmouthshire County Council the High Court upheld a determination of the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman that ill-health benefits from the Local Government Pension Scheme could not usually be backdated to a date earlier than the date of the member’s election for a pension. The earlier case of Spreadborough -v- Wandsworth LBC had not established a general principle that entitlement to an ill-health pension must always be backdated to the onset of the relevant medical condition.
Mr Hamilton was a member of the LGPS. He went on sick leave in December 2000 and did not return to work before the expiry of his fixed term contract in March 2001. In January 2005 he applied for early payment of his deferred pension on the grounds of ill-health - a deferred member may elect for immediate pension if he becomes “permanently incapable of discharging efficiently the duties of that employment because of ill health or infirmity of mind or body”.
His ill-health pension came into payment on 8 July 2005, the date on which his permanent incapacity was established. He complained that his pension should be backdated to 1 April 2001, the day after his fixed-term contract expired.
The Ombudsman dismissed this complaint. The High Court upheld the Ombudsman’s decision:
- Under the relevant provision, a member’s right to payment of benefits arises only when he makes an election and permanent incapacity has been accepted. Entitlement cannot be backdated to earlier than the election but will date back to the date of the election or, if later, the date the member becomes permanently incapable.
- A claimant might in exceptional circumstances be entitled to revive an earlier claim for incapacity benefits on new evidence where justice so required, for example, if new evidence came to light or a relevant development had taken place in medical knowledge or understanding.
- There was some interesting discussion about the language used in Ombudsman’s determinations: Mr Hamilton had tried to argue that two statements made in the determination were mutually inconsistent. The High Court took the view that “the Ombudsman’s job is to decide disputes informally, quickly and cheaply” and that “his determinations should not be pored over as if they were Acts of Parliament”.