Pensions  

TUC urges gov’t to act on same-sex pension ruling

TUC urges gov’t to act on same-sex pension ruling

A decision to reject a legal bid to give a homosexual couple the same pension rights as those in heterosexual relationships is discriminatory, a trade union has said.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, called on the government to act to protect homosexual partners’ pension rights.

She said a decision by the court of appeal earlier this month in the case of John Walker against speciality chemical firm Innospec, was discriminatory and could mean that pension funds were able to pay less to homosexual partners.

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Mr Walker, 62, had been a member of the firm’s defined benefit scheme for 23 years before retiring in 2003.

In legal action brought against Innospec in 1993, his lawyers argued that if he had been married to a woman, his final salary would be worth around £41,000 a year, which his husband should have got in the event of his death.

However the trustees of the scheme said they would only pay his husband about 1 per cent of that amount.

The decision essentially means a deceased member’s survivor does not have rights beyond the statutory minimum to death benefits.

Ms O’Grady said: “The ruling is a real disappointment. There are thousands of people like Mr Walker who want financial security for their surviving spouse or civil partner but cannot get it because their schemes continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

“Had the court ruled in favour of Mr Walker it would have removed one of the last remaining obstacles to true equality for gay and lesbian couples.”

Citing a 2014 government review, which found that the cost of equalising survivor pensions for same-sex partners would be negligible, the TUC head said: “It is now time for the government to act to end this injustice. It is over a year since its review reported on the ongoing discrimination in survivor pensions and ministers have done nothing in response,” she said.

There are approximately 70,000 members of DB schemes in the private sector who will leave behind a surviving civil partner or same-sex spouse.

The majority of schemes treat same-sex partners the same as widows, but approximately one in four do not, according to the TUC.

Same-sex married couples are statutorily entitled to 50 per cent of:

· Scheme benefits accrued from December 2005

· Contracted out benefits from April 2008

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David Brooks, technical director at London-based Broadstone Corporate Benefits, said: “There have been many advances in same-sex marriage rules over recent years, but again the antiquated way that pension schemes operate means that survivors of a same sex marriage are not entitled to the same death benefits. This is dreadfully unfair and must be resolved.

“The government has been reviewing this for some time, and its review currently resides in the long grass. However, it should be dug out, dusted off and the clear conclusion be reached that irrespective of the gender of two people who have married, they should receive the same pension rights when their loved one dies.”