The TUC is urging the government to change the rules on the accrual of survivor pensions so that widowers and same-sex couples are treated in the same way as widows.
The union body says widowers, surviving civil partners and same-sex spouses are currently losing out or may lose out on thousands of pounds worth of retirement income because of ongoing discrimination in the pensions system that successive governments have failed to put right.
When the Civil Partnership Act was introduced in 2005 it ensured that defined benefit pension schemes had to provide the same survivor benefits to civil partners as they did to married partners. But, says the TUC, this legal right to equality only applied from 2005 onwards.
Earlier this year, an employment appeal tribunal ruled against a man who tried to challenge this. Mr Walker had 23 years’ service in his defined benefit pension scheme. If he had been married to a woman she would be entitled to his full pension, worth £41,000 a year when he died, but currently his civil partner is only entitled to a survivor pension worth around £500 a year because most of Mr Walker’s service was before 2005.
The government treated married same-sex spouses in the same way as civil partners, meaning they too only benefit from survivor benefit relating to service after 2005.
Women with a long career service may also be unable to accrue full survivor pension rights for their partners as gender equality in pension accruals only goes back to 1990 in the private sector, and to 1988 in the public sector, says the TUC.
In 2011, the widower of a GP unsuccessfully challenged the inequality between widows’ and widowers’ pensions in the courts. He receives about £3,200 less per year than a widow would as his wife’s service between 1982 and 1988 did not count.
The TUC is calling on the government to stop widowers and same-sex couples losing out by requiring equal rights to survivor pensions to be fully backdated. It will urge members at its LGBT conference in central London today to sign a petition calling on the government to act, and to raise awareness of the scandal of the survivor pension gap amongst their friends and colleagues.
On 1 July a government review of survivor pension inequalities, required by the equal marriage legislation, which was passed in 2013, was set up to estimate the cost of fully backdating survivor pension rights. The TUC argues that the cost is negligible compared to the overall liabilities of pension schemes and hopes it will spur the government to end this discrimination against surviving civil partners, same-sex spouses and widowers.
The TUC says when the Civil Partnership Act was introduced, unions persuaded the government to backdate survivor pension rights in public service schemes to 1988, so civil partners’ rights were in line with widowers’ rights. This 17-year backdating has had no significant financial consequences for the schemes, and proves that the full backdating of these rights is easily affordable, says the TUC.
Many private sector companies have already changed the rules of their schemes.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says: “It’s scandalous that many people are losing out on thousands of pounds a year simply because they are a widower or had a same-sex spouse or civil partner.
“Many same-sex couples who are married or have had a civil partnership assume that they’ve got the same pension rights as all other couples. But if one of them has service in a defined benefit pension scheme before 2005, their partner may not be entitled to a full survivors’ pension when they die. Widowers of women with long career histories are similarly discriminated against when it comes to pension rights.
“Having carried out a review into the ongoing inequalities in survivor pension rights and the cost of full backdating, the government should now do the right thing and end this discrimination against widowers and same-sex couples.”