Government urged to tackle ‘unjust’ pension laws for gay couples

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

There have been fresh calls for the UK to reform pension rules for gay and lesbian couples, after a court declined to take action.

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 based from 2005 onwards to married gay and lesbian couples.

This week the Court of Appeal threw out a legal challenge from John Walker, a man who challenged 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.

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 suggested the cost of equalising pensions would be too expensive, and estimated the cost of the change at £2.9 billion

However, the Trades Union Congress has called for fresh action to end the injustice once and for all.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The ruling is a real disappointment.

“There are thousands of people like Mr Walker who want financial security for their surviving spouse or civil partner but can’t get it because their pension schemes continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

“Had the court ruled in favour of Mr Walker, it would have removed one of the last remaining obstacles to true equality for gay and lesbian couples.

“It is now time for the government to act to end this injustice. It is over a year since its review reported on the ongoing discrimination in survivor pensions and ministers have done nothing in response.”

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.
Government urged to tackle ‘unjust’ pension laws for gay couples

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.”