We all know that Pension Funds are under great pressure, as life expectancy rises and the Stock Exchange falls. I have now discovered how the Trustees of some of them balance the books. They pretend you have died when you haven’t.
Some 35 years ago, as a young man, I joined the Post Office Corporation. This was at a time when it embraced both Royal Mail and Telephones (the word telecommunications had not been invented) and was still firmly in the Public Sector. I was an Economic Adviser, and I toiled away in the shadow of the Post Office Tower, my modest salary forming part of the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. The least of my concerns at that time was my pension and, although I was not to know it, the Pension Fund Trustees were adopting a similar degree of disinterest.
When the February 1974 General Election was called, I resigned to fight my first seat. I got in with a small majority and thought I would be resuming my career in economic advice after the second election in October, when my party suffered another reverse. I survived with a modest majority of 808 and parted company with the Post Office for ever.
I then forgot entirely about the Pension Scheme, which had been part of my terms of employment. No annual reminders were ever sent, showing how my investment was fructifying. No letter was ever sent to my wife, inquiring delicately about my health. I sailed through the qualifying age last year without any contact. It was only when I was clearing out some old files that I came across my contract of employment and details of my pension entitlement. The organisation that had sent my bills every quarter and insisted on prompt settlement apparently took a more detached view of its own liabilities.
I wrote to a place in Chesterfield where my pension had last resided. There was a long pause, then a request for my original birth certificate and marriage certificate. Confronted by the evidence, they confessed. Yes, I was a BT pensioner and no, they hadn’t cushioned my advancing years by paying out.
I asked whether it was their policy to wait until they were asked to pay up and they said no. In my case, sadly, my file had gone astray when BT was divided into its component parts.
Eventually, the lump sum arrived. Not so much a nest egg; more a nest embryo.