Landmark Supreme Court victory ‘could affect millions of people’
Supreme Court rules unmarried woman can access dead partner’s pension
A Coleraine woman denied payments from her late long-term partner’s occupational pension from Translink, should have access to the cash the Supreme Court has ruled.
The Belfast Telegraph reported that five Supreme Court Justices unanimously ruled she is entitled to receive payments under the pension scheme on Wednesday. Go To
Denise Brewster (42), from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, challenged a ruling that she is not automatically entitled to a “survivor’s pension” as she would have been if the couple had been married. Ms Brewster and Lenny McMullan lived together for 10 years and owned their own home. They got engaged on Christmas Eve 2009 but Mr McMullan died suddenly between Christmas night and the early hours of Boxing Day morning.
Mr McMullan had worked for 15 years for Translink, which runs Northern Ireland’s public transport services. He was paying into Northern Ireland’s local government pension scheme.
Brewster’s solicitor, Gareth Mitchell of public law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said the ruling could affect millions of cohabitees. He said: “Denying bereaved cohabitees access to survivor pensions causes huge distress and financial hardship. Now that around one in six families in the UK are cohabiting families, reform is long overdue.”
He continued, “It also lays down the approach to be adopted when considering complaints of discrimination on the grounds of marital status in other areas. This was a decision of the Supreme Court of the UK and it affects the whole of the UK.”
The scheme is governed by rules made under the Local Government Pension Scheme (Benefits, Membership and Contributions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009. Under the regulations, married partners automatically obtain a survivor’s pension but unmarried partners only receive a pension if there has been compliance with an “opt-in” requirement. This involves the pension scheme member nominating their partner for payments by giving the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (Nilgosc) a declaration signed by both partners.
Although she met all the other criteria, Nilgosc refused Ms Brewster a survivor’s pension because the committee had not received the appropriate nomination form from Mr McMullan.
The High Court in Northern Ireland allowed her legal challenge against the refusal but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision and the Supreme Court has been asked to make a decisive ruling.
Jim Black of the Workers of England Union stated “This judgment will be music to the ears of many couples in the UK who live together but aren’t married and have anxieties about what rights they have. Even so, this is just one step along a complex and uncertain road. Nothing has been written in stone and different pension policies will have differently worded criteria.
He continued, “the wisest thing to do is make sure you know what you’re paying into a pension and why, regardless of your marital status. Recently we’ve seen several instances of people walking into pension schemes years ago with no clue of how it worked. Now retirement is upon them and it’s too late to tackle any issues you might have. Find out where you stand and what to expect early. Find out now.”