Defined benefit pensions - survivor benefits
The pension rights of those in same-sex civil partnerships or marriages was the subject of much debate following the case of Walker v. Innospec Limited and others in 2017.
Mr Walker worked for Innospec Limited for over 20 years and was a member of their defined benefit pension scheme. He had been living with his male partner since 1993. In 2006 they entered into a civil partnership and then later married.
In terms of the survivor pension benefits that would be paid to his partner, Mr Walker’s pension scheme only took into account his pensionable service from 5th December 2005 (the date on which the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force).
This is in line with many defined benefit pension schemes which rely on an exception in the Equalities Act 2010:
"A person does not contravene this Part of this Act, so far as relating to sexual orientation, by doing anything which prevents or restricts a person who is not married from having access to a benefit, facility or service - (a) the right to which accrued before 5th December 2005 (the day on which section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force), or (b) which is payable in respect of periods of service before that date."
Mr. Walker argued that his husband's survivor pension would be significantly smaller than if he were married to a woman. The Supreme Court found in favour of Mr Walker.
What was the impact of the ruling?
In the case of Walker v Innospec Limited, the Supreme Court ruled that people in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage must benefit from the same pension rights as those in an opposite-sex marriage.
In March 2018, the government wrote to public service pension scheme representatives about the Supreme Court judgment. The necessary regulatory changes were then taken forward by the departments responsible for each scheme.
It means that in defined benefit schemes like the Teacher’s Pension Scheme and the NHS Pension Scheme, a surviving civil partner now has the same rights as a surviving spouse.
Goodwin v Secretary of State for Education
A later legal case involving the Teachers’ Pension Scheme has seen further progress in the quest for pension rights equality.
In Goodwin v the Secretary of State for Education, the tribunal found that the scheme’s rules could lead to discrimination in two ways. It found that on the death of a scheme member:
- A woman in a same-sex marriage might receive more than a woman in a civil partnership or opposite-sex marriage
- Male survivors of a female spouse or partner could in some instances receive lower benefits than female survivors
As a result of the ruling, changes to the scheme were introduced to ensure equal benefits in both circumstances, with retrospective effect from 1st April 2019.