There is an exemption in the Equality Act 2010 that allows employers to exclude same sex partners from spousal benefits paid into pension funds before December 2005.

The Supreme Court have recently held that this is discriminatory and breaches EU Equality Laws.  This means that the provision is immediately disapplied and if Companies take advantage of the exemption they will be breaking the Law.

The case of Walker –v- Innospec Limited and others involve the Applicant, Mr John Walker who had engaged in a long legal battle to secure equal pension benefits for his husband.

Mr Walker had worked for the Chemicals Group Innospec, retiring in 2003.  By that time he had worked for the Company for more than 20 years.  During his working life he had been required to pay into the pension scheme and he made the same contributions as his heterosexual colleagues.

Mr Walker entered into a Civil Partnership with his partner in January 2006.  Subsequently this was converted into a marriage.

Innospec relied on the Equality Act exemption so that should Mr Walker die his husband would not receive the same survivor benefits he would if he were a woman.

The effect was that the husband was left with a very small pension of only a few hundred pounds a year whereas if Mr Walker had been married to a woman she would have received £45,000.00 a year for the rest of her life.

There was a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court to the effect that the loop in the Equality Act was discriminatory and breached EU Law.  Non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is a principle of EU Law.  Any denial of a spouse’s pension calculated on the basis of all Mr Walker’s years of service would be unlawful.  Mr Walker’s husband was entitled to a spouse’s pension calculated on all the years of Mr Walker’s time with his employers.

After the ruling Mr Walker commented that it was a great shame that this case had taken so many years to come to fruition with a huge amount of tax payers’ money that had been spent.  He questioned how many people in a similar situation had spent the last years of their life together uncertain about whether their loved one would be looked after upon their demise.

If you are involved in dissolution of a Civil Partnership or divorce pensions can be a huge issue and it always pays to take specialist legal advice on the options available.

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