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News

20th February 2017

 
 

Unmarried couples entitled to pension rights

In a judgement given on 8 February 2017, Denise Brewster won her case in the Supreme Court.

Ms Brewster’s long-term partner died and she was denied payments from his occupational pension, which she argued was a “serious discrimination” because she would have been entitled to such payments had they been married.

Ms Brewster and her long-term partner, Lenny McMullan lived together for 10 years and owned their own home together. Mr McMullan died suddenly in 2009 at the age of 43; two days after the couple had got engaged.

Mr McMullan had worked for the Northern Ireland public transport service for 15 years and had been paying into an occupational pension scheme.

Had the couple been married Ms Brewster would have automatically benefitted from the pension but as a co-habiting partner she was only eligible for survivor’s allowance which is awarded when an individual has been nominated on a form. No such form was completed by Mr McMullan.

This case highlights an issue for a large number of co-habiting couples working in the public sector (which includes teachers, nurses and police officers etc.) who have to complete a nomination form for their partners to benefit from their pension if they die. Married individuals do not have to complete such a form, their spouse benefits from their pension automatically.

The Supreme Court has called this nomination form an “unlawful discrimination” and said that it breaches individuals Human Rights. All five Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled that Ms Brewster should be entitled to receive payments under the pension scheme.

This ruling could benefit large numbers of co-habiting couples working in the public sector. They would still have to prove that they have been together for two years and are financially interdependent but other public sector schemes may change the rules for unmarried couples.

These nomination forms are less common in private sector schemes where survivor’s benefit is provided for unmarried partners. The ruling is a step in the right direction towards the same rules being applied for married and unmarried couples across both public and private pension systems.

According to the Office for National Statistics, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK so our pension practices should evolve to reflect this.

If you think you might have a similar case and need advice, or need any general legal advice concerning a family matter, please ask for our family department and speak with Robert Green or Lachlan Donaldson on 01622 759051 or by email - robert.green@gillturnertucker.com and lachlan.donaldson@gillturnertucker.com.

 
 
 

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