The Supreme Court has ruled that a women from Northern Ireland who had refused payments from her late partner’s pension has won her battle to extend benefits to unmarried partners (1). The landmark ruling could now affect millions of families (3).
Denise Brewster had been living with her partner Mr for 10 years, before his sudden death in 2009, and owner a home together. He had been paying into Northern Ireland’s local government pension scheme for 15 years but on his death his partner Denise was denied a survivors’ pension, a decision now ruled unlawful by the court (2). The previous system would have required Mr McMullan to have completed a form nominating his partner before she was for survivors’ pensions.
Her victory at the Supreme Court had the immediate effect of bringing the Northern Ireland public pensions scheme into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom but may lend weight to the cases of millions of families across the UK seeking equal treatment for cohabiting couples in areas such as tax (3).
In the court ruling, Lord Kerr said he considered the objective of relevant provisions of the 2009 regulations “must have been to remove the difference in treatment between a longstanding cohabitant and a married or civil partner of a scheme member”. (3) The decision that the current system represented “serious discrimination” is particularly relevant as the number of unmarried couples has almost doubled in the last 20 years to 6 million (2).
Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb welcomed the ruling. “It is totally unacceptable,” he said, “for cohabiting couples to be treated as second-class citizens. With more than 6 million people living together as couples and the numbers rising every year, this is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.“ (1)
The value of pensions and the income they produce can fall as well as rise. You may get back less than you invested.