Equalise pension survivor benefits for same-sex couples, urges TUC

Revellers at London's Pride festival. Andrea Baldo/NurPhoto/REX

The TUC is calling for the Government to review pension survivor benefits for same-sex couples, since civil partners or same-sex spouses are often left thousands of pounds worse off when their partner dies.

Although surviving partners in same-sex relationships now have the right to claim a survivor pension from their late partner’s scheme, this only applies from 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act came into force, meaning that contributions made before this date do not count.

Widows, on the other hand, would be entitled to receive the full pension benefit.

The TUC believes there could be as many as 70,000 defined-benefit pension scheme members who could leave their pension benefits to a surviving partner, yet around a quarter of schemes do not treat same-sex partners in the same way as widows.

Thousands worse off

The TUC gives the example of married couple Peter Armstrong-Luckhurst and his husband Kristofer, who entered a civil partnership in 2009 and converted this to a marriage in 2014.

Armstrong-Luckhurst has paid into an NHS pension scheme for 16 years, and has also bought another four years’ worth of pensions credits.

As a heterosexual couple, if his spouse died, he would be entitled to £5,585.91 per year from this pension. As it stands, Kristofer would only receive £793.18 a year.

“Hypothetically, I could divorce Kris in the last few weeks of my life and take a heterosexual partner who would be placed at a significant advantage, as a wife of a few weeks, compared to my husband, who has been my partner of nearly 25 years,” said Armstrong-Luckhurst.

A year ago, the Government carried out a review of inequalities in survivor pensions as part of its duty under equal marriage legislation, but has not committed to changing the legislation or to backdate contributions.

This is despite the review showing that the cost of equalising survivor payouts would be negligible in most schemes, because only a relatively small number of people are expected to leave behind a same-sex spouse or civil partner.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is a scandal that people are losing thousands of pounds every year, simply because they have a same-sex spouse or civil partner.

“The Government must remove the last hurdle to equality under the law and bring an end to the discrimination that could leave thousands of people in poverty at a time when they are grieving for a loved one.”

Employers that have already equalised survivor benefits include BP, the National Trust and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

This week, however, a Court of Appeal case could result in the regulations on survivor benefits being tested.

In the case Walker v Innospec, John Walker’s former employer’s pension scheme would only pay £500 a year to his civil partner if he dies before him, despite 23 years of service, while if he were married to a woman she would receive £41,000 a year.

Walker made a successful tribunal claim for direct discrimination in 2013, but this was appealed last year, with the Department for Work and Pensions arguing that failing to backdate the contributions was not in contravention of EU law.

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