Civil partners and same-sex couples in defined benefit pension schemes must be offered survivors’ benefits. But in some cases, only service since civil partnership legislation took effect in 2005 has to be counted towards these benefits.
This can mean that a surviving civil partner or same-sex husband or wife can be many thousands of pounds worse off a year than if they had been a widow who survived a husband.
Instead of dealing with this inequality when same-sex marriage legislation was introduced, the then government set up a formal review.
That review, published by the Government Actuary’s Department in 2014, showed that most private sector pension schemes treated same-sex partners equally.
GAD also found that the capital cost of legislating for equal treatment of same-sex partners across all schemes would be £120 million. This is a negligible proportion of the overall liabilities of these schemes.
Unfortunately the government has not pursued action to equalise treatment for same-sex couples since the review was published and the courts have since upheld pension schemes’ right to discriminate against same-sex partners.
Trade unions have a long and proud record of fighting for equality in general and for same-sex couples in particular. Prospect’s motion urged the TUC’s LGBT+ committee to co-ordinate work among affiliate trade unions and redouble efforts to end this discrimination.
Andrew Martin, a Prospect member from the National Library of Scotland who moved the motion, said:
“This is a matter of equality for same-sex couples overall, but it is also a matter of financial survival for individuals up and down the country.
“All couples are financially interdependent to some degree and defined benefit pension schemes recognise this by continuing to pay a proportion of the benefit to a surviving partner.
“Paying thousands of pounds less to a surviving partner just because of their sexual orientation is not just discriminatory, it can cause real financial distress at a very difficult time.
“Governments have talked about this problem for long enough, it’s time for action to fix this problem.”