Gay man wins Supreme Court case on equal pension rights

A gay man has won a landmark ruling at the UK’s highest court which will secure his husband the same pension rights as a wife would receive.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that if John Walker, 66, dies, his husband is entitled to a spouse’s pension, provided they remain married.

The ex-cavalry officer said it would drag the government “into the 21st century”, while human rights group Liberty who stood for Walker in court said “thousands” could benefit.

Mr Walker, who worked for specialty chemicals group Innospec from 1980 to 2003, said he made the same contributions to his pension scheme as his heterosexual colleagues.

Walker entered the civil partnership with his current husband in 2006, later converting this into marriage.

However, Innospec said it would refuse to pay a full spousal pension, because Mr Walker’s service began before the date civil partnerships became legal in the UK.

The ruling means Mr Walkers husband will now be entitled to a spousal pension of about £45,000 a year, rather than around £1,000 a year that he would have received.

Welcoming the decision, Walker said:

“It is to our government’s great shame that it has taken so many years, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and the UK’s highest court to drag them into the 21st Century”.

“I am absolutely thrilled at today’s ruling, which is a victory for basic fairness and decency. Finally this absurd injustice has been consigned to the history books – and my husband and I can now get on with enjoying the rest of our lives together.

“But it is to our government’s great shame that it has taken so many years, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and the UK’s highest court to drag them into the 21st century. In the years since we started this legal challenge, how many people have spent their final days uncertain about whether their loved one would be looked after? How many people have been left unprovided for, having already suffered the loss of their partner?

“What I would like from Theresa May and her ministers today is a formal commitment that this change will stay on the statute books after Brexit.”

 Lawyers for the human rights organisation Libertysaid Mr Walker’s 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”.
Delivering the judgment, Lord Kerr said:

“The salary paid to Mr Walker throughout his working life was precisely the same as that which would have been paid to a heterosexual man. There was no reason for the company to anticipate that it would not become liable to pay a survivor’s pension to his lawful spouse.”

“Mr Walker’s husband is entitled to a spouse’s pension calculated on all the years of his service with Innospec [the chemicals company where he worked], provided that at the date of Mr Walker’s death, they remain married.”

To deny his partner access to the funds would amount to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, he added.

The judges’ decision was based on an EU framework directive from 2000 guaranteeing gender equality under employment law.

The Department for Work and Pensions has warned that giving retrospective effect to the EU framework directive would impose costs on pension schemes.

 

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