Belfast Telegraph

Court pension ruling makes perfect sense

Editor's Viewpoint

There is little doubt that justice was done in the case of Denise Brewster, who won her legal battle to obtain payments from her late partner's occupational pension scheme. Although the couple were not married and a form entitling her to get a survivor's pension was not completed, the Supreme Court decided she should be paid as if the couple had tied the knot.

For Denise, whose partner of 10 years died just a day after they got engaged in 2009, the past seven years have been fraught as she could have been landed with a huge legal bill had she lost the case.

But will this signal the beginning of an avalanche of such claims against pension schemes in the public sector?

The same sort of restrictions on co-habitees receiving pension payments still exist in the local government scheme here and in other schemes in the UK involving NHS workers, teachers and civil servants.

Given the huge number of people employed in those occupations, the potential for claims could be massive.

It doesn't appear at this stage as if the Supreme Court's decision is a virtual blank cheque for co-habitees who survive their partners who had public sector occupational pensions.

It may be that each individual case will be judged on its merits.

That, of course, raises other questions. Will the length of the co-habitation be a factor in any decision to pay out in cases where no form naming the co-habitee was received by the employer?

Will the stability or otherwise of the partnership be an issue, and how could that be determined?

What the judgment will do is make public sector employers examine their pension rules closely to see if they will be affected by the Supreme Court's decision.

Of course, there will be some people who will regard the decision as another erosion of the status of marriage and, perhaps, even a disincentive to walk up the aisle.

But most people will look at the human cost of not paying out to long-term co-habitees and regard the decision as progressive. In this case Denise and her late fiance Lenny McMullan regarded themselves as a couple for life - even talking about having a family - and it would have been manifestly unfair to deny her payments from the pension scheme.

As ex-Pensions Minister Steve Webb sagely said after the court ruling, we need pension scheme rules which reflect the world we live in.

Belfast Telegraph

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