Long-Term Partner Entitled To Survivor’s Benefits
In a decision that could have significant ramifications for pension scheme managers, the Supreme Court has ruled that the long-time partner of a deceased man is entitled to a survivor's allowance from his local government pension scheme, despite not having been nominated to receive the benefit by the deceased.
The man died two days after the couple, who had been together for a decade, became engaged. He left no will.
The scheme rules require that unmarried members of the scheme must nominate their partners in order for them to be eligible for a survivor's pension. No such requirement is present with regard to spouses and civil partners. The surviving partner, who otherwise satisfied the scheme's conditions, argued that this stipulation was incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to 'peaceful enjoyment of possessions'...in this case, the rights under the scheme.
The ruling was specific to the Northern Ireland local government pension scheme as those in the rest of the UK do not have the 'opt-in' requirement. However, it remains to be seen what impact it may have on other pension schemes which have similar rules.
Additionally, in some cases there may be room for argument over the length and permanency of the relationship needed to qualify for the survivor's pension, although there is established law in other areas which can help.
The real message of this case is that if there is a procedure to follow which can avoid legal action being necessary, it is best to act appropriately. Similarly, making sure you have a valid will at all times is sensible: even if your estate is small, administration is much easier when there is a will.
Please note we are unable to offer legal aid.