Supreme Court to hear challenge to pension rules that deprive gay couples of thousands

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Pension regulations that see same-sex partners deprived of thousands of pounds are being challenged in the Supreme Court.

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 gay and lesbian couples.

62-year-old John Walker, who has been with his husband for more than 30 years, is challenging rules that mean he would only be entitled to pass £500 of his final salary pension on to him when he dies – compared to £41,000 that a female widow could claim.

Same-sex couples outraged at the ‘short-changing’ have long been trying to re-address the rules, and after a defeat at the Court of Appeal, Mr Walker will now take his case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is set to hear the case in November. The Department for Work and Pensions had supported Mr Walker’s employer, the chemicals company Innospec, in the disupte.

Mr Walker told the Victoria Derbyshire Show: “I worked for this company for 23 years and it didn’t matter if I was a man or a woman, if I was gay or straight.

“At the end of it, part of the benefits were a final salary pension scheme and part of that are spousal rights which allows your spouse [if you die] to then get up to two thirds of your pension for the rest of their lives.

“But because my partner, now my husband, is not a female, he would get a mere £500 or £600, whereas if I was to divorce my husband and marry the first women that would have me, she would get £50,000 a year. It seems totally unfair and absurd.”

Mr Walker said he is worried that if he dies, his husband would be left without the financial support that a wife would be.

Liberty legal director James Welch said: “The reason they can do this is because there is an exemption in the 2010 Equality Act which allows companies which have an occupational pension scheme to restrict pensions paid to surviving same sex spouses, to benefits accrued since 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act came in”.

“A government report suggested 27% of employers are still doing this. There is a statutory basis in which they can do this, it is an inequality that remains in our law and therefore it is very important to change it.”

He added: “The government is arguing to protecting its legislation. In a sense, it is a bit unfair that we are bringing proceedings against the employer because they are just doing what the law allows them to do.”

“The government report two years ago said equalising the position for private employers would cost £0.1bn… in the scale of things, given the amount of pension liabilities, this is not a great deal.”