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Court Ruling a Victory for Cohabiting Couples’ Rights

The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman should be entitled to a survivor’s pension from her deceased cohabiting partner’s pension scheme.

The case concerns a requirement in the 2009 Local Government Pension Scheme regulations that unmarried cohabiting partners must be nominated by their pension scheme member partner in order to be eligible for a survivor's pension. The survivor must also show that he or she has been a cohabitant for two years before the date on which the member sent the nomination and has been in that position for two years before the date of death. There is no similar nomination requirement for married or civil partner survivors.

Cohabiting Partner Denied Pension Rights

The case had been brought to the Supreme Court by Denise Brewster, who had lived with her partner William McMullan for around ten years before they got engaged. Mr McMullan sadly died two days later.

At the time of his death, Mr McMullan was employed by Translink, a public transport operator, for around 15 years and had been paying into the Local Government Pension Scheme. Ms Brewster believes that Mr McMullan had completed a form in which he nominated her to be eligible for a survivor’s pension. However, the body that administers the scheme says it did not receive any form and refused to pay her a survivor’s pension.  

Case Reaches Supreme Court

Ms Brewster applied for a judicial review of this decision and the High Court ruled in her favour, however the case was appealed to the Court of Appeal, which found against Ms Brewster.

Meanwhile, prompted by the judgment of the High Court, the equivalent regulations in England and Wales and in Scotland were amended to remove the nomination requirement in those schemes. When the appellant became aware of these changes, she applied to the Court of Appeal for her appeal to be re-opened. Her application was refused and she appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has now unanimously allowed Ms Brewster’s appeal and declared that the requirement in the 2009 Regulations that the appellant and Mr McMullan should have made a nomination be disapplied, and that the appellant is entitled to receive a survivor’s pension under the scheme.

Judgment Welcome by Law Society

The judgment has been welcomed by the Law Society, which has described it as ‘a victory for equal treatment before the law for unmarried couples’.

"Equality before the law is a vital part of the free and fair society we all want to live in, and the label people choose to put to their relationship should not change that," explained Law Society president Robert Bourns.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court provides welcome legal clarity for unmarried couples living together, and is a step towards equal treatment across the diverse family circumstances people now create,” he said. "Other areas of unequal treatment, such as the law around what happens to your property if you die without a will, unfortunately still remain.”

"A family solicitor can help unmarried couples make arrangements to ensure outdated legal rules do not mean that their partner misses out should something happen to them," he added.

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For expert legal advice on the rights of cohabiting couples then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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