Supreme Court grants same-sex partners equal pension rights

Male couple

Same-sex partners in marriages and civil partnerships will have the same pension rights as husband-and-wife couples after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

The court unanimously ruled that the husband of the appellant, John Walker, is entitled to a spouse’s pension if Mr Walker dies as long as they stay married. This entitles Mr Walker’s husband to a £45,000-a-year spousal pension in the event of his death, instead of the statutory minimum of £1,000 a year.

Mr Walker had worked for Innospec Ltd from 1980 until he retired in 2003. His pension-scheme provider did not have to pay the spouse’s pension because he left the company before civil partnerships were introduced in the UK in December 2005. This is because the Equality Act 2010 includes an exemption for employers to exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits for service before that date. The Supreme Court held that the exemption was ‘incompatible with EU law and must be disapplied’.

Mr Walker won an employment tribunal in 2012 to secure his spousal pension rights, but it was overturned on appeal two years later. The appeal decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2015. The Supreme Court ruling now reverses the Court of Appeal judgment. The decision has implications for all same-sex couples whose pension-scheme providers have relied on the December 2005 cut-off date to disallow spousal benefits.

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