A gay man has won a landmark court case to secure the same pensions benefits for his husband as a wife would enjoy.
John Walker, 66, reached the end of a five-year court battle today when London’s Supreme Court ruled that an exemption in the Equality Act which lets employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid in to pensions funds before December 2005 is discriminatory and breaches EU equality laws.
From today, employers will no longer be able to take advantage of this exemption.
Five judges unanimously allowed Mr Walker’s appeal against an earlier ruling against him. They ruled that his husband is entitled to a spouse’s pension on his death, as long as they remain married.
Human rights organisation Liberty said the decision could change the lives of thousands of couples across the UK.
Mr Walker retired from chemicals group Innospec in 2003, having worked for the company for more than 20 years.
During his time there, he was required to pay into its pension scheme. He made the same contributions as his heterosexual colleagues.
Mr Walker and his husband have been together since 1993. They entered into a civil partnership in 2006, and they are now married. After their civil partnership was registered, Mr Walker asked his employer to confirm that his partner would receive the spouse’s pension in the event of his death.
Relying on the Equality Act exemption, Innospec said that, should Mr Walker die, his husband would not receive the same survivor benefits he would if he were a woman.
Those benefits would not include all the contributions Mr Walker had made prior to 2005 – leaving his husband with a pension of about £1,000 a year. If he were married to a woman, she would receive £45,700 a year for the rest of her life.
Mr Walker said: “I am absolutely thrilled at today’s ruling, which is a victory for basic fairness and decency. Finally this absurd injustice has been consigned to the history books – and my husband and I can now get on with enjoying the rest of our lives together.
“But it is to our government’s great shame that it has taken so many years, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and the UK’s highest court to drag them into the 21st century.
"In the years since we started this legal challenge, how many people have spent their final days uncertain about whether their loved one would be looked after? How many people have been left unprovided for, having already suffered the loss of their partner?
“What I would like from Theresa May and her ministers today is a formal commitment that this change will stay on the statute books after Brexit.”
In a statement the Department for Work and Pensions said:“We are reviewing the implications of this judgement in detail and will respond in due course.