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Pensions: civil partnerships and same sex marriages

Published Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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 schemes used to contract-out of the State Second Pension/SERPS).

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.  In November 2016, the Government said it would respond in due course:

In 2014, a review of Survivor Benefits in occupational pension schemes was conducted jointly by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Treasury (HMT) which considered the differences in benefits provided to widows, widowers and same-sex survivors. Details can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/occupational-pension-schemes-review-of-survivor-benefits

A decision will be made in due course, and the outcome will apply to the police pension scheme. (PQ 50428, 3 November 2016; PQ 16179, 23 November 2015)

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. The Supreme Court is due to hear the case in March 2017. The issue before it is:

Whether a male employee is entitled to require a pension fund to pay a surviving spouse’s pension to his civil partner or husband on the same basis that such a pension would be payable if he were married to a woman.

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 CBP-06348 Occupational pensions – survivors’ benefits for cohabitants (February 2017).

Commons Briefing papers SN03035

Author: Djuna Thurley

Topics: Civil partnerships, Equality, Pensions

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