In February 2017, on an application by Denise Brewster for judicial review relating to the local government scheme in Northern Ireland, the Supreme Court held that the nomination requirement should be disapplied and that she should be entitled to a survivor’s pension under the scheme. HM Treasury subsequently wrote to public pension schemes saying that “cases previously refused solely because of a lack of nomination form should be reconsidered and schemes should pay survivor benefits from the date of the member’s death in eligible cases, regardless of when a claim is made.” (PQ 105675, 16 October 2017)
This decision was based on the specific point of unmarried couples being mandatorily required to complete a nomination form. In this case, the nomination form had not been completed and the pension authority determined that no benefits were available to the claimant.
Prior to 2006, The 1987 Police Pension Scheme provided entitlements payable to adult survivors i.e. widows, widowers and civil partners but not cohabitees who were not married or in a civil partnership.
Since 2006, the Police Pension Scheme has provided benefits for adult survivors including spouses, civil partners and unmarried partners who are not civil partners. All adult survivor awards are payable for life, irrespective of whether the survivor remarries or forms a new partnership.
In our view, the probable impact of this judgement will be that unmarried couples will no longer have to complete the nomination form, but will still have to prove they had been living together for 2 years.
Furthermore, there is no indication that this recent judgement will be retrospective beyond 2006.
Pension Administrators have implemented changes as a result of this case. However, the Pension Regulations have yet to be changed
The report, Occupational pensions: survivors benefits for cohabitants, looks at the development of survivors’ pensions for opposite sex cohabiting couples, particularly in public service pension schemes and the decision of the Supreme Court in the Brewster case
The pension tax legislation allows schemes to provide a survivor pension to a person who was not married or a civil partner of the scheme member but was financially dependent on them.
Until reforms introduced in the mid-2000s, public service schemes did not provide survivor pensions for unmarried partners. This was in contrast to private sector schemes, where the trustees often had discretion to provide such benefits. Changes in lifestyles led to pressure for schemes to be modernised and in the 1998 pensions Green Paper, the Labour Government said it would extend eligibility survivors’ pensions to unmarried partners if members were prepared to meet the additional costs. Subsequent reforms to all the main schemes included improvements to survivors’ benefits, such as the introduction of pension for unmarried partners and allowing pensions to be paid for life rather than removed on remarriage or cohabitation. These improvements were not made retrospective – scheme members either had to have service after the date of the reform or opt to be a member of the post-reform scheme.