Sunderland Council admin error sees firefighter's widow miss out on £2,500

A firefighter's widow missed out on £2,500 in pension payments following an error by Sunderland City Council, a meeting has heard.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 30 July, 2018, 17:55
Sunderland City Council, made a mistake with a fireman's widow's pension

The error emerged when the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s (TWFRS) Governance Committee heard updates on their final audit report for 2017/18.

The report concluded the service had managed a “difficult financial position well” over the year and raised no concerns about current financial management.

During the audit, accountancy firm Mazars discovered SCC were responsible for a £2,500 pension underpayment over a six-month period.

The council – which administered TWFRS pensions at the time – gave reassurances to auditors that it was an isolated incident, the meeting heard.

Senior manager at Mazars, Gavin Barker, said the audit’s pension sample was extended to other new widows to check if the error was more widespread.

Speaking at the fire authority’s HQ in Nissan Way, he added no other errors were found duing this process.

However, Coun Kevin Dodds raised concerns about the underpayment and asked for reassurance that the council would review all pensions it has responsibility for.

“It’s a very significant error to have allowed because of the impact it would have on that individual,” he said.

TWFRS’s strategic finance officer, Dennis Napier, added the fire authority will commission a review on all individual pension cases to “check they’re right”.

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SCC stopped providing pension administration services for TWFRS in April 2018 due to “limited capability to be able to continue to provide an effective service,” a committee report states

The decision was linked changes in pension regulations and the the specialised nature of the service, it adds, with West Yorkshire Pension Fund taking over responsibility for the role from April 1 2018.

A SCC spokesman said “The council used to administer several thousand firefighter pensions and this was an unfortunate and isolated administrative error, which was corrected as soon as it was discovered.”

A TWFRS spokeswoman added:  “To ensure that all firefighter widow records are accurate we are asking West Yorkshire Pension Fund to carry out a review to provide reassurance that all records held for widows is accurate.”

*The audit completion report added that TWFRS faces a budget gap of £3.6m between 2018/19 and 2021/22 but has earmarked reserves to match this.

Following the setting of the 2018/19 budget, the service concluded negotiations with the Home Office over the £10.5m historic overpayment of fire injury pensions.

Around £1.8m was paid in 2017/18 with the remaining £8.7m to be repaid over a 17-year period at a rate of £500k per year.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service