Will pension rights for same-sex couples survive Brexit?

Campaigners from the civil rights group Liberty are urging the government to ensure that equal pension rights for same-sex couples will be enshrined in UK law after Brexit.

It follows the landmark ruling in which ex-cavalry officer John Walker won a landmark ruling to secure the same pension rights for his husband that a wife would be granted.

Mr Walker had worked for his employer from 1980 to March 2003, when he took early retirement. He had lived with his same-sex partner since 1993 and they had married after his retirement. Mr Walker asked his employer for confirmation that after his death a spouse's pension would be paid to his husband.  

The employer refused because civil partnerships didn’t come into effect until 5 December 2005, two years after Mr Walker retired.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which has now ruled in Mr Walker’s favour. It held that if Mr Walker dies, his husband will be entitled to a spouse’s pension, provided they remain married.

Giving judgment, Baroness Hale said the employer’s refusal to grant equal pension rights to Mr Walker’s husband was “incompatible with EU law and must be disapplied".

It’s estimated that more than 10,000 same-sex couples could benefit, costing the pensions industry millions of pounds.

Liberty, which backed Mr Walker's action, said the case had challenged "an exemption in the Equality Act that lets employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into a pension fund before December 2005, when civil partnerships became legal".

Emma Norton, a lawyer with the group, added: "This ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights protection the EU gives us. We now risk losing that protection. The government must promise that there will be no rollback on LGBT rights after Brexit and commit to fully protecting them in UK law."

A government spokesman said: "We are reviewing the implications of this judgment in detail and will respond in due course. The rights of same sex couples have been transformed for the better since 2010, including the introduction of same sex marriage and legislation to ensure that pensions are built up equally for all legal partnerships."

We shall keep clients informed of developments.


Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law and sex equality.


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