Proposals to equalise survivor benefits for same-sex married couples to be brought forward next summer

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Pensions Minister Steve Webb MP confirmed in the House of Commons that new proposals for civil partnership pensions will be brought forward next July.

When asked by Conservative MP Mike Freer for an estimate of the number of surviving civil partners who qualify for widow and widower pensions, the Minister accepted Government data on the topic is “very patchy”.

The Minister indicated a statutory review was currently underway as a consequence of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent in the summer.

Unless a change is made to UK pension system the equal marriage laws will allow gay couples to marry, but not to receive the same survivor pension benefits as heterosexual couples. Several MPs and Lords campaigned during the passage of the bill in Parliament to have equal treatment for surviving civil partners.

Currently, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act does not require schemes to provide same-sex spouses with the same survivor benefits as heterosexual married couples.

The Equality Act 2010 contains a loophole allowing for private occupational pension schemes to ignore years of contributions by gay employees and limit survivor benefits for civil partners.

Currently, a wife whose 60 year old husband died today after five years of marriage would be entitled to a survivor pension calculated from the date at which the husband started paying into his pot. If a 60 year old civil partner died today after five years in a civil partnership, the surviving partner would only be entitled to a survivor pension calculated from 5 December 2005.

Mike Freer MP, speaking following the exchange in the House of Commons said; “I am pleased the Minister has accepted no one is in possession of all of the facts. We simply do not know how many civil partners, and soon to be married gay couples, are losing out because of this rule. I am reassured we will know by summer next year.”

Pension providers and the Her Majesty’s Treasury have suggested the cost of having equal pensions would be too high, and equalisation could damage the pensions industry. A cross-party group of MPs and Peers has promised to continue pursuing this issue indefinitely.

In July, Mr Freer said it was right to settle the discrepancy “whatever the cost”. He also disputed the DWP’s estimate.