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Military widows get pension boost

Thousands of military widows will be able to remarry without losing their pensions from next year, under plans announced by David Cameron.

The Prime Minister has ordered the closure of a legal loophole which can mean the bereaved are hit financially if they find another partner. The move, unveiled on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, follows a long-running campaign by service charities.

Between 1973 and 2005 armed forces pension scheme rules dictated that benefits ended when widows remarried or started cohabiting. Although the issue does not exist for more recent schemes, thousands of widows have potentially been affected. They include people who lost loved ones in action in the Falklands, the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.

The loophole is viewed as particularly unfair as many families follow military personnel around the world on postings - meaning it is difficult for spouses to build a career and make their own provision.

Mr Cameron said he had tasked officials to come up with a solution as part of the Government's commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant. All spouses and civil partners who are beneficiaries will be able to remarry without losing the pensions from April 1 - when a new scheme is introduced.

Mr Cameron, who will meet forces' widows in Downing Street tomorrow, said: "This is a long-standing grievance and I think one which is very justified - people who were married to someone in the armed services and that person died and so they lost their pension if they married again.

"I think that wasn't fair and I'm delighted that because we have a strong economy we can afford to make this change and give justice to these people."

He added: "This reflects our clear commitment to uphold the Armed Forces Covenant which we enshrined in law."

According to Number 10, the changes will potentially affect some 3,000 widows who would have lost their lifelong benefits by remarrying. The cost of the adjustment to the public purse is estimated to be around £120 million over the next 40 years.

Defence Minister Anna Soubry said she was "quite happy" to have another look at whether the changes should be applied retrospectively.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the argument that would be put forward is that many people will say that this is retrospective pension changes and every Government will tell you that you shouldn't do that and that's why we have been able to apply the covenant we believe and it's the right thing to do.

"Looking at why people who haven't been able to claim it in the past I think that would be, some would say, a step too far because you are doing retrospection retrospectively.

"I know that probably doesn't make an awful lot of sense but I can see and understand that argument.

"But, hey, I'm quite happy to go away and say to people, let's have another look at that as well."

Irene Willis, chairman of the War Widows' Association, said: "After campaigning for this amendment, which will benefit a small number of war widows whose partners died in service to their country, we are delighted that the Government has decided to provide pensions for life."

Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said: "As the spouse of a member of the British Armed Forces your career can take a back seat as a result of relocation and frequent moves, therefore many miss out on the chance to build up an independent pension pot.

"The Armed Forces Covenant recognises that no one should suffer a disadvantage due to Service, and that the bereaved are entitled to special consideration. That is why today's announcement, that all widows and widowers will retain their pension for life, is so important. We congratulate the Government on recognising that this is a Covenant issue and enabling Armed Forces widows and widowers to live on."

Major General John Moore-Bick, general secretary of the Forces Pensions Society, said: "The Armed Forces community thanks the Prime Minister and his defence team for listening to the logical arguments of the Justice for Widows campaign.

"We applaud the fact that this unequivocal decision to treat all Armed Forces widows equally after April next year recognises that the Armed Forces Covenant has its rightful place in the sector of pensions, with the removal of clear disadvantage of Service spouses and partners."

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "It's vital that we do right by those who put their lives on the line for their country - that's why this Government enshrined the Armed Forces Covenant in law."

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