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‘Resignation’ is Voluntary – But Not If You’re a Civil Servant

The word ‘resignation’ denotes voluntary departure from employment – but it bears a different meaning if you are a civil servant, the Court of Appeal has ruled in an important decision for any worker affected by privatisation of public services.

A veteran prison officer’s employment had transferred to a company when the prison where she worked was privatised. She opted to retain her existing benefits under the civil service pension scheme, which included a right to retire on a full pension at the age of 55. However, she was subsequently informed by the Cabinet Office that she was only entitled to take her preserved pension when aged 60.

Her complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman was rejected on the basis that the word ‘resignation’, within the rules of the scheme, equated to ‘loss of office’ and embraced involuntary transfers of employment. That decision was, however, later overturned by a judge who ruled that the word should be given its ordinary meaning.

In allowing the Cabinet Office’s appeal, and restoring the ombudsman’s decision, the Court found that, in the context of the rules, voluntary and involuntary departures from civil service employment fell within the definition of ‘resignation’. The normal meaning of the word could not justify a departure from the clear wording of the rules.

On privatisation of the prison, the Cabinet Office had assured staff that they would be afforded all the protections enshrined in the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 and that their terms of service would therefore be unaffected. However, that could not change the outcome of the case.