I've never campaigned before. Ive never even used Twitter before. But this week I found myself driven to action as a result of something that I felt very strongly about. I was forced to fight on my brother Martin's behalf to get what he was owed from the employer he had dedicated his life to for nine years. If I had made a complaint through an ombudsman it would have taken a year, maybe more. Starting this petition saw more than 50,000 people support us and a result within 48 hours.
When I started the petition on Change.org I thought it would help highlight the problem that many families face when a loved one passes away and instead of grieving they're made to fight bureaucracy. When Martin received the tragic news that his melanoma cancer had spread to his lungs and was incurable we were all mortified, however Martin being Martin, remained positive and spent his final months worrying about everyone else, comforting those around him and despite endless pain and suffering, never stopped thanking the doctors and nurses for the care they were giving him.
As part of this he was anxious to ensure all his financial matters were in order and applied for the tax-free serious ill health lump sum from his Tesco pension which anyone facing terminal illness can apply and would have allowed him access to the full value of his pension. Martin was an extremely sociable and popular guy, and he wanted his life to be celebrated by 'as many people as possible'. Knowing that the cost of funerals is around £8,000, he had earmarked that money for this.
After he died in February, we followed through with his wishes. At his cremation more than 250 people turned up. I still remember my mother anxiously saying 'I hope they all turn up', - well I never had any doubt and I wasn't surprised when nearly two-thirds of people couldn't fit inside the crematorium. The toast to Martin's life continued at the stunning Grade II-listed Hylands House in Chelmsford where we shared memories of this 40-year-old happy chap who meant so much to so many people.
Watching the hope and positivity drain from my big brother's face when he was told there was nothing more they could do was the single worst moment of my life, watching the agony as my poor mum, dad and brother David also came to the realisation that things will never be the same again and there is nothing we could do.
Knowing how much it meant to Martin to get everything in order, I became increasingly upset at the lack of communication and flippant disregard we were met with when trying to get somewhere with the Tesco pension scheme. In every phone call and every letter, I saw my mum and dad having to relive the tragic events of recent months, only to be ignored.
Eventually when we received a standard generic letter that, without explanation or acknowledgment of the serious ill health claim, simply stated a greatly reduced amount would be given to us I flipped. How dare they be so disrespectful to my brother and his memory when he served them loyally for almost a decade. How dare they ignore his entire ill health application and not even bother responding to our letters. How dare they use red-tape and their sloppy admin to wriggle out of what is is rightfully owed! This was no longer just about the money, it was the principle.
I knew something had to be done so I started the petition. Usually I wouldn't be so public with something so personal, but Martin was always very active on social media and always wanted to help others so I thought even if we couldn't get his wishes fulfilled, at least we might be able to raise awareness and help other families going through a similar experience.
I had no idea it would take off as it did, I remember thinking if we got 1,000 supporters that would be really great. I was absolutely amazed at how many people came forward so quickly, Martin would've been so incredibly touched. The truth is that Tesco was so steeped in its form filling process that it would never have changed its position but within 48 hours we got a result because of all the incredible support.
I don't just blame Tesco alone. There's something wrong in the pension regulation system that allows companies to reduce serious ill health claims to a reduced five year payout based on pedantic bureaucratic form filling rather than the facts at hand. I am grateful though that Tesco has done the right thing and hope it, and other pension companies take the opportunity to improve their urgency, communication and compassion in handling situations in these circumstances in the future.