House of Commons Library

War widows' pensions

Published Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Looks at the background to the change in the rules to allow all people in receipt of a War Widow(er)s' Pension in April 2015 to keep it for life (regardless of remarriage or cohabitation) and at the current campaign to allow pensions to be reinstated for those who had already surrendered them.

Jump to full report >>

The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) has provided survivors’ benefits for the partners of service personnel whose death was attributable to their service from 6 April 2005. AFCS survivors’ benefits are unaffected by any marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation.

For deaths occurring before 6 April 2005, the overall payment may be made up of a non-attributable pension from Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS 75) and a compensation award. The compensation award may be made up of two parts.

  •  The War Widow(er)’s Pension under the War Pensions Scheme (WPS)
  • The Armed Forces Attributable Benefits Scheme (AFABS)

 WPS & AFAB has different burdens of proof. There can be instances where only WPS is paid & no compensation is paid from AFAB.

Under both schemes, the original policy was to withdraw survivors’ benefits in the event of remarriage or cohabitation. The rules have however changed so that:

  • War widow(er)s whose spouse died before 31 March 1973 could keep their War Widow(er)’s Pension if they remarried, formed a civil partnership or started cohabiting with another person after 6 April 2005. However, those who had remarried or began cohabiting before this date did not have their pension reinstated.
  • A War widow(er) whose spouse died after 31 March 1973 whose War Widow(er)’s Pension had been withdrawn because of remarriage or cohabitation could get the pension reinstated if their new partner died or the relationship ended.
  •  Since 31 October 2000 AFABS pensions have been paid for life, regardless of remarriage, the formation of a civil partnership or cohabitation. This didn’t apply to people who remarried or started cohabiting before this date (although their pension could be reinstated if their new partner died or the relationship ended).
  • All recipients of survivors’ pensions (whether under the War Pensions Scheme or AFABS) who remarried, formed a civil partnership or started cohabiting after 1 April 2015 have been able to keep their pension.

The change introduced on 1 April 2015 did not extend to those who had already surrendered a War Widows’ Pension on remarriage or cohabitation. However, in response to recent PQs Defence Minister Mark Lancaster has said he is “sympathetic to the circumstances of this group of widows” and has asked “officials to continue to consider potential options given the financial and legal considerations we are faced with” (PQ 49238 26 October 2016).

The introduction of lifetime survivors’ pensions in other public service schemes is covered in Library Briefing Paper SN-07109.

Commons Briefing papers SN00568

Authors: Djuna Thurley; Steven Kennedy

Topics: Armed forces welfare, Pensions, Veterans

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.