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Pensions: civil partnerships and same sex marriages

Published Tuesday, October 27, 2015

This note looks at the way in which forming a civil partnership affects rights to state, occupational and personal pensions and at the relevant provisions in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

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The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave same sex couples the right to register as civil partners from 21 December 2005. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 enabled same sex couples to marry. For the purposes of State Pension and occupational pension rights, the Act provided for same-sex married couples to be treated in the same way as civil partners.

When the legislation was before Parliament, a particular issue of debate was what this meant in terms of rights to survivors’ benefits, particularly those in contracted-in occupational pension schemes. The Equality Act 2010 contains an exception, providing that it is not discrimination because of sexual orientation to restrict access to a benefit that would be available to a person who was married or in a civil partnership in relation to rights accrued before 5 December 2005. The effect of this is that where an occupational pension scheme provides survivors’ benefits to married couples, it must also provide them to surviving civil partners but only in respect of service from 5 December 2005. (Additional requirements apply to contracted-out schemes). Opposition MPs and Peers tabled amendments proposing that the exception in the Equality Act should be lifted. The Government amended the Bill at Third Reading to require a review of survivor benefits for different groups in occupational pension schemes and the costs and other effects of eliminating differences. The review of survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes was published in June 2014.

On 4 August 2015, Pensions Minister Baroness Altman said the Government needed to take account of the costs and other effects of reducing or eliminating differences before deciding whether the law should be changed (PQHL1778). On 6 October 2015, the Court of Appeal rejected a legal challenge by John Walker to secure equal survivors benefits for his husband from his contracted-in occupational scheme.

This briefing paper looks at the way in which forming a civil partnership or entering into a same sex marriage would affect rights to state, occupational and personal pensions. Occupational pension provision for unmarried partners is covered in SN06348 Occupational pensions – survivors’ benefits for cohabitants (June 2012).

Commons Briefing papers SN03035

Author: Djuna Thurley

Topics: Civil partnerships, Equality, Pensions

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