Unfortunately, a UK court has rejected a legal challenge to pension laws that “discriminate” against same-sex couples.
In case you aren’t aware, the current pension laws in the UK do leave same-sex couples objectively worse off compared to their opposite-sex counterparts. This is due to the fact that same-sex couples have only been legally recognised since civil partnerships were introduced in 2005.
So, what does this actually mean for same-sex couples? Essentially, it means that while opposite-sex couples have had decades to accrue rights to partner pension benefits on private pension plans, numerous plans only offer entitlements from 2005 onwards for same-sex couples.
The law was challenged by one John Walker, who would only be entitled to pass on £500 of his final salary pension to his husband when he dies. Compare this to the £41,000 he would be able to pass on if he was married to a woman, and you begin to see the issue.
Sadly, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the past cannot be revised s changes would necessitate.. This decision likely boils down to the fact it would cost £3 billion if same-sex couples’ pensions were boosted. Some companies, such as Shell and Telefonica UK, have voluntarily surpassed the legal minimum and given same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-couples. However, it’s estimated that one in four final salary pension schemes do not do more than the law requires.
Lord Justice Underhill wrote: “I can understand that Mr Walker and his husband will find this conclusion hard to accept. But changes in social attitudes, and the legislation which embodies those changes, cannot fully undo the effects of the past.”
John Walker was understandably upset, and said while speaking to the Telegraph: “It is utterly reprehensible that my employer – Innospec – a large, successful company with a pension fund surplus – is unwilling to follow the example of the vast majority of major British companies in giving homosexual partners exactly the same spousal benefits as heterosexuals.”
“I gave them more than two decades of service. I paid exactly the same contributions as my heterosexual colleagues. Yet my husband – with whom I have lived for over 20 years – will be entitled to nothing from the company on my death.”
“If I were married to a woman, or if I divorced my husband and married a woman, she would be entitled to a full spousal pension. How can this constitute anything other than the most flagrant discrimination?”