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Northern Ireland lifeguard takes her fight for late fiance's pension to Supreme Court

By David Young

Published 23/09/2015

Denise Brewster at home
Denise Brewster at home
Denise Brewster with late partner Lenny McMullan

A Northern Ireland woman is taking her fight for pension justice to the Supreme Court for a ruling that could affect people and families across the UK.

Denise Brewster, a Coleraine lifeguard, was denied a survivor's pension following the death of her long-term partner Lenny McMullan.

Although they had lived together for 10 years, they had been engaged for just two days when Translink employee Lenny died on Christmas night 2009.

Mrs Brewster (41) challenged the pension fund's decision, and in 2012 the High Court in Belfast found in her favour.

But the NI Local Government Superannuation Scheme appealed the verdict, and in 2013 the Court of Appeal overturned the initial High Court decision by a 2-1 majority.

But now - with the help of a leading London law firm - Denise's case is to go to the Supreme Court in London for a final ruling that could have repercussions across the UK.

Miss Brewster had resigned herself to losing her legal battle before she was contacted by the company, Deighton Pierce Glynn.

The lawyers' firm told her that they would take up her case on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Denise told the Belfast Telegraph she was fearful of going ahead with the challenge, but something inside her told her not to give up.

"I was reluctant to go with them at first," she said last night.

"They said that they believed I would win, but I was worried.

"'I've spent a lot of money on legal things. I said: 'I can't lose any more money - I've lost enough losing Lenny and I don't want to lose my house and my mind in the process'.

"Then I went to my place of worship. And part of the sermon that evening was telling me to stand up for what was right, to ask God for direction and to keep my faith. And I do have a strong personal faith.

"I prayed about it and decided I would have another go."

Mrs Brewster is hoping the Supreme Court will find in her favour and that her struggle will help other people in a similar position to access the pension funds their partners had paid into for so many years.

The trap she found herself in affects mainly women - something the Supreme Court may take into consideration in reaching its verdict.

"Lenny and I were planning for our future," Miss Brewster said. "We thought we would grow old together. I never suspected that if Lenny died the money he had paid in for us would just be kept by the pension scheme."

Deighton Pierce Glynn said: "Miss Brewster's case challenges rules in pension schemes which discriminate against couples who are not married or in civil partnerships and which prevent the payment of survivor benefits when one partner dies. However, the case is also likely to have significant ramifications for unmarried couples more generally.

"Miss Brewster has already been granted permission to appeal by the Supreme Court in recognition of the wider importance of her case.

"However, Miss Brewster is unable to afford to continue her case without financial support towards court fees and the risk of having to pay the Government's legal costs."

To raise the £4,000 in upfront fees needed for the case to proceed to the Supreme Court, Mrs Brewster has set up a crowdfunding campaign here.

Already, more than £1,000 has been raised.

"I feel so strongly that what has happened is not fair," she said. "No one disputes that Lenny would have wanted me to benefit from his pension contributions in the event of his death, but because he apparently failed to complete this form I have to try to manage without this.

"The position is even worse for women with children, where the whole household is deprived of support as a result.

"I do not want anyone else to go through what we have been through. It has been a real struggle to get this far with the legal case.

"However, I have now got to the highest court in the UK and I have the potential to make a real difference to improving the position of long-term co-habitees and their dependants."

Denise takes pension right fight to UK's highest court

Belfast Telegraph

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