UK Supreme Court hears landmark battle over pension rules that ‘rip off’ gay couples

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A man’s battle to equalise pensions law for same-sex couples will be heard by the Supreme Court this week.

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 loophole 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 is challenging rules that mean he would only be entitled to pass £500 of his final salary pension on to his husband and partner of more than 30 years 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 is taking his case to the Supreme Court.

The court will begin hearing the case tomorrow (March 8).

The Department for Work and Pensions had supported Mr Walker’s employer, the chemicals company Innospec, in the dispute.

John Walker said: “The government should be ashamed that – in 2017 – I and so many others are being forced to live with the worry that our loved ones won’t be provided for when we’re gone, solely because of our sexuality.

“My husband and I have been together for 24 years. During that time, I also gave more than two decades of my life to Innospec, paying in exactly the same amount into the company pension fund as my heterosexual colleagues.

“How can it be right that my husband will get practically nothing but, if I were to divorce him and marry the very first woman I see, she would be immediately entitled to the full spousal pension? It’s not just unfair – it’s absurd.

“For as long as I can remember, successive governments have talked about creating a fairer society – but while this exemption exists, they continue to sanction discrimination and inequality.”

Emma Norton, a lawyer at Liberty acting for Mr Walker, said: “This is a clear case of discrimination. Mr Walker gave 20 years to his employer and made the same pension contributions as his heterosexual colleagues but – solely because of his sexual orientation – his husband will see nowhere near the same benefits. Many, many others will be suffering the same injustice.

“This archaic loophole has no place in the UK in 2017, and it is disgraceful that the Department for Work and Pensions continues to spend taxpayers’ money fighting to preserve it. There can be no price tag on equality.

“We hope the Supreme Court will drive the law into the twenty-first century and take a huge step towards equal pension rights for same-sex spouses and civil partners.”