Members will recall the tragic case of Charlotte Hughes, highlighted in the May issue of Pennant. Charlotte’s husband Andrew, a Sergeant in the Intelligence Corps was killed in a car accident in October 2016, two months after they had married.
Three years earlier, as a single man and just prior to a tour of Iraq, Andrew had nominated a friend to receive a death lump sum, should anything happen to him.This form was never cancelled, with the result that when he died, the MoD paid the death lump sum to the nominee. This was despite Andrew making a new will and changing all his other personal details and seeking advice from his orderly room as to whether he had done all required to look after his wife.
In our view, the case has highlighted a lack of training and a widespread systemic ignorance of both the rules and the duty of the chain of command to promulgate them.
Charlotte does not accept the outcome and nor do we. And when we publicised the story many of our members agreed that the decision had no basis in common sense, morality, or fairness. She therefore initiated an appeal. Her Stage 1 and Stage 2 appeals to the MoD were both refused, in December 2016 and June 2017 respectively. She has now appealed to the Pensions Ombudsman, which is the first time the case will be considered outside the MoD. FPS is assisting Charlotte with her appeal and we await the outcome.
The whole case revolves around whether the MoD enjoys any discretion. We believe it does, that its use is written into the AFPS 15 rules and that current best practice across the pension world demands it. It also accords with the Armed Forces Covenant which requires that special consideration be given to the bereaved. Properly exercised discretion exists as a tool to prevent injustice and perverse outcomes. That is why it is widely used. The MoD disagrees. This has become a legal dispute about the interpretation and intent of the scheme rules. We will await the decision of the Ombudsman and will keep our members informed every step of the way.
Note: AFPS 75 does not include a death nomination form. Any death lump sum automatically goes to the spouse or estate. AFPS 05 and 15 do provide a death in service form. Any member on either of these schemes who thinks they might have filled in such a form should check it for currency, because until this dispute is resolved, in the event of their death, the wrong person might receive the lump sum – their ex girl or boyfriend for example. This applies to both serving and retired personnel.