Goodbye to unequal pension rights for same-sex couples

NGA_Stock_243The Supreme Court judgment in the case of Walker v Innospec Limited and others [2017] UKSC 47 is a landmark victory for individuals either in a civil partnership or same sex marriage but why?

The case involved Mr Walker who worked for the company Innospec and, after 20 years of service, retired in 2003. During his years of service, Mr Walker paid into Innospec’s occupational pension scheme and built up a healthy pension pot, which included benefits for his surviving spouse. But  Innospec’s pension policy did not allow Mr Walker’s husband to benefit from the same survivor pension benefits as his wife would have done. The benefits he was set to receive would only reflect the contributions Mr Walker had made after 2005 (the year Civil Partnerships were introduced in the UK). Innospec relied on an exemption in the Equality Act 2010 to justify their discriminatory treatment and this was challenged by Mr Walker on the grounds that it breached EU equality law.

Mr Walker’s legal challenge was not straightforward and involved numerous hearings at an Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal before the matter was finally heard by the Supreme Court. Positively, his determination eventually paid off and the Supreme Court unanimously held that the exemptions in the Equality Act, which Innospec relied on, were discriminatory and breached EU equality laws. As a result, Mr Walker’s husband will, after his death, be entitled to the better pension benefits his wife would have been given.

There is no denying that this case was a landmark victory for same-sex couples and it highlights, quite significantly, the rights and protections that EU law currently provides in addition to UK legislation (which leads us to question whether there needs to be more reassurance that LGBT rights will be protected post Brexit). For family lawyers like us who often work with separating same-sex couples, it is important too, since deciding the value of pensions and how they should be shared is a common feature of divorce and dissolution proceedings.

For more information on how we can help with resolving financial arrangements between same-sex couples who have separated, please see Our Services: Financial issues.

 

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