Former Boots employees feel betrayed after pension changes 'wipe out' retirement plans

Paul Ridley, 59, pictured at home in Barrow-upon-Trent in Derbyshire wearing a white and blue patterned shirt
-Credit: (Image: Joseph Raynor/Nottingham Post)

Former Boots employees say they feel betrayed by the company after last-minute pension changes "wiped out" their retirement plans. For decades, Boots had told workers who were part of its pension scheme that they would be able to retire at the age of 60 without any financial penalty.

Many of those with long careers at the Nottingham-based company had therefore been making plans for years to retire early. Some hoped to spend their retirement becoming foster parents, whilst others were planning on taking time to travel and see relatives who have emigrated abroad.

All these plans are now up in the air after Boots announced in November that it was scrapping the ability for people to retire early, with members now only able to take a full pension without a penalty from the age of 65. For those who planned to retire age 60, they are therefore facing the prospect of either taking a severe cut to their pension payments or finding a way to bridge a five-year gap.

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Paul Ridley, 59, is one of thousands affected and only found out about the changes after reading about it in the press. Mr Ridley, who lives in South Derbyshire and worked for 20 years at Boots, said: "A lot of us know the Boots of old, a lot of us have given a lot of our lives to Boots. You think of Jesse Boot, the links to Nottingham, and then this is what the company has done.

"I think that's the bit that gobsmacks people - it's an emotional trauma as well as financial. The contempt they've shown towards people when they've disrupted their lives just beggars belief." Mr Ridley says he cannot afford to take a financial penalty and is therefore predicting that he will have to work longer than expected.

One of the main arguments being made against the changes is the need for a more effective transition period. Boots currently says anyone who received a full pension quote within the six months before the changes were announced will still be entitled to the old terms.

Mr Ridley, one of those who says that rule is "unfair", added: "They're shafting their members." Rachel Curley, 54, was thinking about retiring even earlier than the age of 60 after becoming critically ill and being unable to return to work for seven months.

Rachel Curley, 54, pictured at home in Bramcote, Nottinghamshire, on the sofa wearing a jumper
Rachel Curley, 54, pictured at home in Bramcote, Nottinghamshire -Credit:Joseph Raynor/Nottingham Post

Mrs Curley, who lives in Bramcote, also worked for Boots for around 20 years, including around a decade at its Beeston HQ. Working at the University of Nottingham at the time of her critical illness, Mrs Curley says the health scare made her think about plans for the future.

"When you're critically ill, it makes you think about life. At the age of 53, I made the decision to leave work, give myself six months to recover fully and enjoy life a bit more. Part of what enabled me to do that was the fact that I knew I could take my pension from Boots.

"At that stage I was even thinking I might take it at 55 because the penalty was fairly small. Now it's not an option at all because it wipes out two thirds of my pension."

Mrs Curley says she had asked for a full pension quote within Boots' six-month window but never received one after the company reportedly said they were being "inundated" with requests. One of those facing the biggest change to their retirement plans is a 56-year-old Beeston man, who did not want to be named but who worked for Boots for more than 32 years.

The man and his wife were unable to have children of their own and therefore wanted to become foster parents in their retirement, with a house renovation planned in readiness. But the 56-year-old says he is now carrying out this renovation himself and is unsure whether he and his wife will be able to afford to become foster parents as planned.

The former Boots employee said: "After decades of promising that we would be able to retire by a certain date, they've pulled the rug from underneath us and now with three years to go for me before that date arrives, they've told me that I'm not to be able to draw up my full pension. The reason that this has come about is Boots' American owners want to sell Boots UK and they've realised that they can't get the price they want while the pension scheme was attached to the company.

"I feel like I've been completely betrayed, having given the company 32 years of my loyalty." The high street chemist, founded in Nottingham in 1849, was first taken over by the Walgreens Boots Alliance in 2014.

The US firm is now reportedly considering floating Boots on the London stock market, with the company having previously tried to do so in 2022. The changes to the Boots pension scheme were announced around the same time that the sale of that scheme for £4.8 billion to Legal & General was confirmed.

Boots headquarters off Thane Road, Nottingham
Boots headquarters off Thane Road, Nottingham -Credit:Nottingham Post/Marie Wilson

Experts at the time said the pensions deal could result in a smoother sale of Boots UK, though Legal & General has publicly said that the change to the pension terms were made solely by the scheme's trustees. Boots did not want to add any further comment when approached by Nottinghamshire Live, with the company having previously said: "The trustees firmly believe that this agreement is a positive transaction for members and all decisions were taken in the best interests of the overall membership.

"The agreement with Legal & General delivers the 'Gold Standard' level of security and protection for members' benefits." Boots has told employees that the ability to retire at 60 was always a discretionary benefit that the company had the right to remove.

Yet affected employees including Mrs Curley say this argument is disingenuous, adding: "In 1993 I joined the scheme and it was always our understanding that you could retire at 60, all your illustrations were at 60. I don't know of anyone that's asked to retire at 60 and been rejected." Those affected are now going through an appeals process, which involves two appeals having to be made directly to Boots.

If both of those attempts fail, and many stage one appeals have already been rejected, then the government ombudsman could eventually get involved. One of those leading the fight is 55-year-old Helen Tarver, who is part of an action group comprising around eight members.

Ms Tarver says the pension scheme was "healthy" and "well funded" and that the changes made therefore "stink." Given that the pension scheme in question closed around 10 years ago to new members, Ms Tarver also questioned why the changes were made given that the costs to the company of the pension scheme were "finite."

The former Boots employee, who worked at its Beeston HQ from 2022, added: "Final salary pensions are a bit like the golden goose, there are very few left across the UK and it was often used as a recruitment tool at the time. We knew our salaries were below market level but we made up for it because we had a more generous pension.

"It is the ultimate irony that the latest advertising slogan is 'with you for life', particularly when you consider that a lot of the advert is based on the role of the pharmacists and a lot of pharmacists just feel it's a diabolical way to treat people."