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Highland MSP David Stewart in bid to help out pension crisis plumber

By Gregor White

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Murray Menzies and Dave Stewart.
Murray Menzies and Dave Stewart.

An Inverness politician is intervening in a bid help a local plumber facing a £1.2 million pensions debt.

Regional Labour MSP David Stewart was appalled when he heard of Murray Menzies’ plight.

The retired plumber and his wife Jennifer are trying to get by as best they can despite the prospect of losing the family home after being issued with the bill from a pension scheme.

They fear the shock demand from Plumbing Pensions could leave them penniless.

Mr Menzies (71), who was a partner with his father in William Menzies and Son, in Academy Street, said he was never alerted to the problems that he would face when he started paying into the multi-employer Plumbing & Mechanical Services (UK) Industry Pension Scheme (Plumbing Pensions) for his workers in the 1970s.

Mr Menzies thought that closing the business in 2015 would end his association with the scheme, which is fully funded on an ongoing basis.

But current legislation means liabilities from one sponsor become the responsibility of other companies in the pension fund when one of them leaves the scheme.

It started issuing debt notices for the first time last year, following a data matching exercise to find old employers which didn’t pay what they owed when they left the scheme.

And it would appear Mr Menzies could be stung for
£1.2 million.

Mr Stewart said: “This is such a bizarre and extreme situation which has led to huge disproportionate costs for Mr Menzies and other retired pensioners who, like him, are being penalised for paying into a pension scheme to secure the financial future of their employees.

“His case is a real priority for me because I am so appalled by it. It’s totally disgraceful and in my 12 years [as an MSP] I can think of very few injustices that have been as bad as this. It’s a scandal.”

Mr Stewart is urging the lawmakers in Westminster to make changes to help small plumbing companies deal with their pension liabilities. He is seeking talks with UK pensions minister Guy Opperman and he plans to work with other MSPs to get a resolution.

He met Kate Yates, the chief executive of Plumbing Pensions, last month.

Mr Menzies said he appreciated all the help he could get because his situation was desperate and the threat of losing their home was taking its toll on his wife.

“She’s lost about a stone in weight,” he said. “She’s been doing nothing but living and breathing all of this. It has had a disastrous effect on her. There’s no doubt about it. All we can do is wait for answers to our questions and hope the law changes to get us out of this nightmare.”

A spokeswoman for Plumbing Pensions said it had no choice but to pursue the debt.

“Plumbing Pensions recognises that pursuing significant sums of money from small business owners like Mr Menzies is very stressful and distressing.We are working hard to ensure employers, like Mr Menzies, have all the information and guidance they need to support them through this process and help them understand their options.”

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