The 6th Century sage Lao Tzu is credited with the proverb ‘’A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’’, the journey to achieve equality in UK pensions begun in 1990, saw another step forward with the outcome of the Goodwin Employment tribunal case, and now the consultation on changes to the 1995 section of the NHS Pension Scheme. Of course as with all long journeys the Goodwin case brings additional twists and turns. Read about how this might affect you here:
1. One more step forward
The last decade has seen a raft of changes to survivors’ benefits ensuring benefits paid to unmarried partners of members who die aren’t lower than those paid to spouses. There have also been adjustments in respect of single-sex partners and spouses and civil partners.
In Goodwin v the Secretary of State for Education, involving the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, The tribunal held that the schemes rules could lead to two areas of discrimination on the death of a member, a female in a same-sex marriage might in some cases be treated more favourably than a female in an opposite-sex marriage or civil partnership. Male survivors of a female spouse or partner could also receive lower benefits than female survivors.
This consultation attempts to remedy similar discriminatory rules for the 1995 section of the NHS Pension Scheme. If they’re adopted, it will mean that survivors of marriages or partnerships should receive the same benefits no matter their sex or sexual orientation.
These changes are proposed to take retrospective effect from 1 April 2019, meaning they will have been in force from the same point as other equalising changes. By the way, that means that for male survivors, the changes will ensure that they are treated in the same way as civil partners have been from 5 December 2005, when civil partnerships began.
2. Twists and Turns
For survivors and administrators points to look out for include increases in pensions for male spouses and civil partners, female members who may have purchased increased survivor benefits for male partners demanding a refund or requests for additional enhancements to their pension benefits. Although these are scheme issues, you may need to deal with members and their concerns.
All employers, whether in the NHS or the private or third sectors, may want to check what death benefits have been paid in respect of current and former employees who have passed away since 1 April 2019 in advance of a series of enquiries from them sparked by NHS Business Services Authority who will be contacting those affected survivors. You can then reassure them that they will, where applicable, receive increases in backdate benefits, or alternatively be ready should they contact you.
The consultation closes on 8 April 2021, and can be accessed here: NHS Pension Scheme: proposed changes to Scheme Regulations - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
If you want to discuss these changes further, or need help in deciding if they will affect you, please contact: