LGPS survivor pension for unmarried long-term partner – landmark judgment

Employment Eye – Alert!

09/02/2017

The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) in Northern Ireland cannot justify requiring a member to complete a nomination form as a pre-requisite for a co-habiting unmarried partner to be eligible for a survivor's pension. It is enough that the survivor meets the definition for a co-habiting partner.

This is what the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a landmark case for Denise Brewster, the fiancee of a Northern Ireland LGPS member who had died without submitting a nomination from. She will now receive that survivor's pension. In England, Wales and Scotland, the LGPS requirement for a nomination form in respect of an unmarried co-habiting partner has already been dropped.

The ruling confirmed that pension benefits are a possession and that as a matter of human rights[1] a long term unmarried partner of a deceased scheme member should be compared to a spouse or civil partner of a member when it comes to LGPS survivor benefits. Requiring the member to have completed a nomination form in respect of their unmarried partner was an interference in property rights that could not be objectively justified. It is sufficient that

  • the partner and member were living together for two years or more,
  • had some shared financial commitments and
  • neither was already married, in a civil partnership or in another long-term relationship with anyone else.

For other public sector pension schemes this ruling could mean that they too will need to drop requirements for a member to submit a nomination form before their co-habiting partner can be eligible for survivor benefits. Public authorities already have a duty to consider equality in all their decision making processes.[2]

The case could also prompt further consideration of capital gains tax and inheritance tax differences for unmarried co-habiting partners versus tax exemptions enjoyed by spouses and civil partners.

Private occupational pension schemes may also decide to review their scheme eligibility provisions for survivor pension benefits.

Please click here for a full transcript of the judgment.

Please contact me, or your regular Bevan Brittan contact, if you would like us to review your arrangements in the light of this decision, or if you have any other pensions queries.

 

[1]           ECHR Article 14 (which prohibits discrimination ) and Article 1 Protocol 1   (peaceful enjoyment of possessions)

[1]           s.149 of the Equality Act 2010

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