Landmark court victory secures pension rights for same-sex couples

A gay man has won a landmark court case that will force pension companies to treat same sex married couples in the same way as members who are married to partners of the opposite sex.

After a five-year fight to get equal pension benefits for his husband, John Walker finally won the landmark case in the Supreme Court this week. This means that if he dies first, his husband will receive a pension of £45,000 a year, the same amount that would have been paid had Mr Walker been married to a woman.

The case was against the chemicals company, Innospec, where Mr Walker worked between 1980 and 2003. It had refused Mr Walker’s husband’s pension rights on the grounds that civil partnerships had only been made legal in the UK in 2005, after Mr Walker had left the company.

Mr Walker had been in a relationship with his now husband since 1993 and entered a civil partnership in January 2006.

Although the 2010 Equality Act allowed employers to exclude civil partners for contributions paid in before 2005 – the Supreme Court has now ruled that this loophole is ‘unlawful’ and in breach of EU equality laws.

Commenting on the result, Emma Norton, a lawyer for Liberty, who acted for Mr Walker said: 'We are delighted the Supreme Court recognised this pernicious little provision for what it was – discrimination against gay people, pure and simple.'

However, she called on the government to maintain the change in legislation post-Brexit.

‘This ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights protection the EU gives us. We now risk losing that protection. The Government must promise that there will be no rollback on LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] rights after Brexit – and commit to fully protecting them in UK law.’

Pensions champion, Ros Altmann, says that most pension schemes already treat same sex couples in the same way as heterosexual companies but that around 20 per cent lagged behind. She comments: ‘Having had to fight all the way up to the Supreme Court, the issue has been settled and all UK pension schemes will now have to pay survivors' pensions to same-sex partners on the same basis as they would for opposite sex partnerships.’

She adds that it is also likely to prompt further challenges to existing pensions legislation. ‘There could be further implications of this ruling, in that widow's pension rights in many schemes differ from the pension rights of widowers. In some schemes, a husband cannot inherit the wife's pension, but a wife will inherit that of her deceased husband. I expect this issue will now be looked at again - and the cost to public sector pension schemes could be hundreds of millions of pounds.’


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