Supreme Court signals equal pension rights for everyone

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that Civil Partners and Spouses in same sex relationships should enjoy the same rights a heterosexual couples in relation to pension entitlement.

John Walker had fought a lengthy legal battle against his former employers seeking the right of his husband to receive a souses pension in the event of his death. His former employers had resisted this.

What’s the history of this case?

Mr Walker worked for Innospec between 1980 and 2003 and during that time he paid the same contributions into the company pension scheme as his heterosexual colleagues. In January 2006, he entered into a Civil Partnership with his now husband and that was later converted to a marriage.

His former employers indicated that they would not pay full spousal benefits to Mr Walker’s husband because Mr Walker’s employment began before 5 December 2005, the date on which Civil Partnerships came into being in UK law.

In 2012 Mr Walker won an Employment Tribunal case against Innospec. They appealed and that appeal was upheld two years later and then, in 2015 the Court of Appeal upheld the Appeal decision that Mr Walker’s husband wasn’t entitled to the same spousal pension as would be enjoyed by a spouse in a heterosexual marriage.

What is this worth?

The majority of occupational pension schemes contain a provision that 50% of the value of the pension fund will be paid to the spouse for the rest of their life if the husband or wife dies first.

The Equality Act 2010, however, contains an exemption. It provided that companies could exclude civil partners from spousal benefits paid in before December 2005.

The Supreme Court has now ruled that this exemption is incompatible with EU law and must be disapplied.

What will happen now?

This case gives rise to some serious implications and costs not only for the private sector, where the costs of implementing this ruling could be as much as £100 million but also for the public sector where the costs could be as much as £20 million.

The Supreme Court has delivered a Summary of its judgement. You can view Lord Kerr delivering that judgement by clicking here.  If  you would like to read the Press Summary of  the Judgement, you should click here.

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