UK court rejects equal pension rights for same-sex couples

A UK Court has rejected a man’s legal challenge to pension laws that “discriminate” against married same-sex couples.

Current pensions law leaves some married gay and lesbian couples worse off than their heterosexual counterparts – because same-sex couples have only been recognised in the eyes of the law since civil partnerships were introduced in 2005.

The flaw means that while elderly straight couples have had decades to accrue rights to partner benefits on private pension plans, a number of plans only offer entitlements from 2005 onwards to married gay and lesbian couples.

John Walker had challenged the rules that mean he would only be entitled to pass £500 of his final salary pension on to his husband when he dies – compared to £41,000 had he married a woman.

Same-sex couples outraged at the ‘short-changing’ have long been trying to re-address the rules, but this week the Court of Appeal threw out his appeal.

If the Court had ruled in favour of Mr Walker, it would have boosted same-sex couples’ pensions at a cost of £3 billion, to account for the historical problems.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the past cannot be revised as changes would necessitate.

Lord Justice Underhill wrote: “I can understand that Mr Walker and his husband will find this conclusion hard to accept. But changes in social attitudes, and the legislation which embodies those changes, cannot fully undo the effects of the past.”

Mr Walker told the Telegraph: “It is utterly reprehensible that my employer – Innospec – a large, successful company with a pension fund surplus – is unwilling to follow the example of the vast majority of major British companies in giving homosexual partners exactly the same spousal benefits as heterosexuals.

“I gave them more than two decades of service. I paid exactly the same contributions as my heterosexual colleagues. Yet my husband – with whom I have lived for over 20 years – will be entitled to nothing from the company on my death.”

“If I were married to a woman, or if I divorced my husband and married a woman, she would be entitled to a full spousal pension. How can this constitute anything other than the most flagrant discrimination?”

A spokesman for Stonewall said: “The current situation is unfair – equality should not be denied on the basis of cost.

“Stonewall works with employers to ensure they recognise and act upon this loophole, and actively backdate pensions to provide equal benefits in their pension schemes.”

A succession of MPs and peers from all sides of the political divide pressed the case for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act to close the loophole, but the government resisted the demand and warned that the cost of equalising pensions would be too expensive.

The government previously estimated the cost of the change at £2.9 billion