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Same-sex pension rights: the government has finally acted on a landmark court ruling

Same-sex pension rights: the government has finally acted on a landmark court ruling

The government has finally responded to last year’s Supreme Court ruling on equal pension benefits for same-sex partners in the event of a scheme member’s death.

The Supreme Court judgment in Walker v Innospec ended the ability of pension schemes to restrict benefits for same sex partners to service since 5 December 2005 – the date that the Civil Partnership Act took effect.

The judgment also required pension schemes to provide equal benefits to both civil partners and same-sex spouses.

Since the ruling last July, the Treasury has been considering the implications for public service pension schemes.

Ministers recently told Parliament that the Treasury finally wrote to these schemes on 21 March setting out the policy approach they should take.

These letters instructed public service pension schemes to make changes to their processes and rules in order to provide equal benefits for civil partners and same-sex spouses.

The schemes will provide further information on their approach and the timescales for implementation in due course.

The Treasury decided not to extend the same equal treatment to women scheme members in opposite-sex marriages who would want their male partners to receive their pension benefits in the event of their deaths.

The justification for continuing this discrimination is that equal survivor benefits for male and female scheme members are required only for service from May 1990 and public service pension schemes already comply with this.

The estimated immediate £1bn cost (before taking into account regular ongoing pension payments) associated with backdating survivors’ pensions beyond this date for male survivors of opposite-sex marriages may also have affected the Treasury’s thinking.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary, said: “It’s welcome that the Treasury has finally responded to the Supreme Court judgment in Walker v Innospec and told public sector pension schemes to equalise benefits for same-sex partners.

“However the decision to allow discrimination against female scheme members to continue is wrong and should be reviewed by ministers.”

Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh


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