Not many prices have remained unchanged since 1994. The Transport Benevolent Fund membership fee is one that has, but an increase is now needed.
The inevitable rise in costs, year-on-year, and the change in modern family dynamics have both put the fund under pressure in recent times. As a result, the TBF’s trustees have agreed to increase its membership fee by 25p.
Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the public transport industry and workers across many sectors have been on the front line throughout the pandemic. They have helped to transport vitally important NHS staff, carers and other key workers to ensure that they reach their destinations.
By doing so, they have exposed themselves to the risk of the virus, and many of them have suffered as a result, with some paying the ultimate price.
Even before we were all dealing with the terrible effect of Covid-19, it is a sad fact that, in modern Britain, there are cases of need, hardship, and distress amongst those working within the public transport industry.
Physical and emotional illness can lead to many weeks off work, with consequent loss of earnings, and, whilst nothing can compensate a bereaved family for the loss of a loved one, the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO – TBF – is always ready to help in times of need and uncertainty.
From simple beginnings
The fund’s roots go back to the First World War, when the Train, Omnibus, and Tramway Group of London passenger transport companies set up the TOT Mutual Aid Fund to support the dependants of employees serving with the armed forces.
Subscriptions were paid voluntarily, and matched penny-for-penny by the participating firms. It meant that the service pay of workers could be supplemented, so that their families would not suffer undue hardship whilst they were away fighting.
The charity evolved over succeeding years, becoming the Train, Omnibus, and Tramway Benevolent Fund in 1923, the London Transport Benevolent Fund in 1933, the TBF in 1996 and TBF CIO in 2015 (2016 in Scotland). By that time, it had spread its activities far beyond the capital.
What does TBF offer?
TBF offers people working in the public transport sector in Great Britain, who find themselves in need, hardship, and distress, a wide range of health, welfare, and financial benefits.
John Sheehy, TBF chief executive officer, explained: “TBF is different and makes a difference. Membership is far reaching and helps a great many people on a day-to-day basis. Each family member is considered separately, and benefits paid are not cumulative for the whole family. Monies granted are for the beneficiary to keep, it is not a loan. There are no different levels of membership – the flat-rate weekly fee gives the member and their family access to the extensive range of benefits.”
A small weekly fee covers membership for the prime member, their partner and dependent children. It is usually paid by payroll deduction, but can be paid directly from the member’s bank account by standing order if payroll deduction is not an option.
The only criterion for membership is that the member is working within the industry on the day they join. There is no bar for those suffering from pre-existing conditions, no requirement for a medical, and no age limit for joining. When members retire from work, they may be able to obtain free membership if they have contributed long enough. Individuals can even continue with their membership if they leave the industry.
A not-for-profit membership charity, TBF embraces everybody engaged in the industry and related services, including bus and coach operators, all major rail operators and their infrastructure and maintenance companies, ferry operators, the airline industry and licenced taxis.
TBF BENEFITS INCLUDE
- Medical benefits
- Medical consultations, scans and tests where the NHS is unable to deliver within an acceptable time frame;
- Medical equipment not available from the state;
- Convalescence and recuperation.
- Complementary and alternative therapies
- Chiropractic and osteopathy treatments, physiotherapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology, chiropody and podiatry, and many more.
- Financial help
- Cash grants to help cover short-term hardship when a member is off sick, usually for two weeks or more;
- Prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs).
- Advice and bereavement
- Debt advice;
- Legal assistance (although employment-related matters and costs related to property conveyancing are not included);
- Bereavement grants if the member or their partner unexpectedly passes away (before State pension age) or on the death of a dependent child.
In recent years, a significant number of employers, having recognised the benefit of TBF membership for their employees, have entered into a partnership with TBF and are now meeting the cost of membership as part of their employment package. Employers recognise the importance of work-life balance and offering support to staff if the need should arise. The health and wellbeing of their workforce is an extremely important factor in keeping staff-turnover to a minimum.
How does TBF work?
TBF is a registered charity in England and Wales (1160901) and in Scotland (SC047016). The fund is governed by a board of trustees, most of whom work in the transport industry, and they decide on all benefits awarded.
Patrons include leading figures in the major transport groups and the trades unions.
The weekly subscription is not the fund’s only source of revenue. Individuals and companies make donations from time to time, and money is raised through charitable events. Gift Aid donations represent another income stream – the weekly subscription qualifies for Gift Aid if paid through the payroll system or standing orders, as do bequests.
Monies donated or bequeathed in a person’s will in favour of TBF for a specific cause can be ‘ring-fenced’ in a memorial fund to help members, and sometimes non-members, if they are affected by a specific condition or incident. For example, the Arthur and Rose Hollingsworth Memorial is used in helping public transport employees (or their dependants) who have been closely associated with a fatal incident at work.
Help in such a situation is not restricted to TBF members. The trustees are currently considering two new memorials to help workers in both the bus and rail sectors who have been affected by the coronavirus. Monies will be raised from the Run for the Bus campaign and the proceeds from the charity raffle, of which TBF has been the main beneficiary in recent years, at the annual RailStaff Awards.
With its head office in London, TBF has expanded steadily in recent years, thanks, in part, to the activities of nine local organisers who visit key sites across England, Scotland, and Wales, recruiting new members. The fund does not pay commission, which means more of its money goes to assist those members in need.
TBF has over 68,000 members and, during the past 12 months, has paid £2.9 million in benefits to its members.
“The current weekly membership fee is just £1 and this has not gone up since 1994, when it was increased from 80p,” John Sheehy commented. “Keeping the fee so low for so long is, in part, thanks to the help of well-managed investments, the growth in the number of members year-on-year, and generous donations.
“We’ve continued to operate and support our members through recent economically-difficult times without an increase,” he continues. “We kept it at £1 throughout the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, and we’ve been assisting members during the current pandemic crisis.”
Maintaining the weekly fee at £1 is, alas, no longer sustainable, and a rise will be implemented in the spring of next year, but it is a remarkably modest one, given the benefits provided. All members will be contacted personally, nearer the time.
“It was not an easy decision to make, but, after lengthy discussions with TBF’s board of trustees, it has been agreed that the membership fee will be raised by 25p a week to £1.25 from 1 April 2021,” Sheehy explained.
TBF patron Sir Peter Hendy CBE (pictured below), chairman of Network Rail and a long-standing supporter of the fund, said: “The transport industry is a family. At the heart of this family is the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO, providing care and support when our members and their dependants need it most.
“For the first time in nearly 30 years, we’re asking you to contribute a little more, at a time when we’re awarding more in benefits and demand for our services is higher than ever.
“I’m immensely proud to be a patron of TBF, and it’s vital we’re able to continue supporting members in times of hardship and distress”.
Value for money
It still represents remarkable value-for-money. One of the TBF trustees, Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire managing director Rob Jones, said: “Everyone involved with TBF is enormously proud of the fact that we have been able to continue to offer such an extensive range of benefits while keeping the fee at just £1 a week for so many years. So, the trustees have agonised over this major decision.
“Unfortunately, it has been clear for some time that further monies would be required due to the inevitable rise in costs year-on-year. Our postal budget alone is around £44,000 annually.
“Modern living arrangements have brought about a change in family dynamics, which have also put the fund under pressure, with an increased need for benefits. We feel that an extra 25p a week is a not-unreasonable rise and that TBF members will understand why we have had to do this.
“On the positive side, the small rise will allow TBF to offer increased benefits as well as cover the shortfall. £1.25 per week equates to less than 20p per day, and that’s great value-for-money when compared with the cost of your daily latte, cappuccino or flat white, for instance.
“In an attempt to reduce running costs and help to keep the membership fee rise to a minimum, the trustees have also approved the implementation of a fully-digital computer-system upgrade. This will be achieved by utilising the existing IT budget allocation.”
This new IT system will include the launch of an online portal giving members instant access to their record with the fund. It will include past claims, current employment details held and will give them the ability to update personal information. All data will be stored as per the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 and under the guidelines of current GDPR legislation, as it is now.
Eventually, members will be able to submit online claims and requests and view statements of available funds.
Current office practices at TBF have evolved over the past 97 years and there is no debate that modernisation of the system is overdue. At the moment, all fund payments are still being made by cheque, which is, of course, expensive and administratively burdensome. What is more, paper consumption in the form of stationery is huge and does the environment no favours.
So, a planned introduction of a state-of-the-art, electronic payment system will reduce expenditure, improve efficiency, and boost the fund’s green credentials.
The moderate rise in the weekly fee looks set to result in even more valuable benefits that can be shared by all members as the economy emerges from lockdown.
“TBF is all about helping people,” Rob Jones enthused, “people in the public transport industry, and the future for the fund and its members is extremely exciting.”