Belfast Telegraph

Transgender woman wins pension dispute against Stormont department

NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby with Frances Shiels
NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby with Frances Shiels
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A transgender woman has spoken of her relief after winning a pension dispute against a Stormont department.

Frances Shiels (65) applied for her State pension in April 2015, just two months after receiving a gender recognition certificate.

Ms Shiels said she suffered a significant financial loss - nearly two years worth of payouts - when the Department for Communities would only backdate her pension to the date of her certificate instead of her 63rd birthday.

Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland law requires those with a gender recognition certificate to be unmarried.

In April this year the Human Rights Commission entered into settlement discussions with the department, agreeing to settle the case on the basis that Ms Shiels would be given the full amount that she would receive from her qualifying date.

The problem was that Ms Shiels could not receive her pension as a woman until various legal and administrative hurdles had been overcome, resulting in financial loss.

The Commission said this meant that a transgender woman was treated differently when trying to apply for a State pension here.

It remains unclear how many transgender people locally this could affect.

"I'm delighted to get the decision, it's absolutely fabulous and without the help of the Commission here I wouldn't have been able to fight it," said Ms Shiels.

"I was particularly upset because I could have chosen to stay on in paid work for at least another year or two, but it left a giant hole in my budget going forward.

"I had planned to start a Masters degree that September and had relied on my back pension to fund that, so that's one of the things that's had to be put on hold."

She said not having her status recognised had also been hurtful.

"We as transgender people are not seeking additional rights over anybody else, but really my mission is to ensure where we have rights afforded to us (by virtue of the Gender Recognition Act) we should be able to access those on the same basis as every other person largely expects and receives."

Ms Shiels said she still had some disappointment the case did not go to court, which could have set a binding legal precedent. "The way it's happened now is why I'm making myself so public about it, to let people know that on the same basis anyone in the same circumstances can achieve the same outcome without having to go through the unnecessary stress and strain I've had to endure," she explained.

In an earlier statement, Ms Shiels said: "I knew from the outset that I was not being treated fairly but was only able to establish my rights when I received help from the Human Rights Commission.

"It is important that the rights of transgender individuals are properly respected and that we can fully participate in society like everyone else."

Human Rights Commissioner Les Allamby said he was delighted with the settlement.

"We argued that the initial decision of the Pensions Service was discriminatory under the Human Rights Act and caused her a significant financial loss. We are happy this has now been fixed.

"The only factor preventing a full entitlement, in this case, was the requirement that transgender individuals should be unmarried.

"Northern Ireland is still the only part of the UK where this is required. The law needs to be amended to end this discrimination."

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