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Same sex couple set to appeal landmark pension case in Supreme Court

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Same sex couple set to appeal landmark pension case in Supreme Court

A gay man is taking his fight for equal pension death benefits to the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeal ruled against him last October.

John Walker is in a legal battle to allow his husband to inherit the same percentage of his defined benefit (DB) pension that a female partner would be entitled to. 

Currently an exemption in the 2010 Equality Act allows companies in occupational pension schemes to limit pension benefits for surviving same sex spouses, to benefits accrued since 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act came in. This means that companies do not have to pay out the full pension benefits to a civil partner in a same sex marriage on pensions accrued before 2005.

Walker worked at chemicals company Innospec and in 2012 an employment tribunal ruled that the company’s benefits scheme went against European law, the BBC has reported.

However, the company launched an appeal supported by the Department for Work and Pensions and the decision was overturned by an Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2014. An appeal was then rejected by the Court of Appeal last year, the report said.

Now Walker, who worked for 23 years at Innospec, will take the decision to the Supreme Court. A hearing has been pencilled in for November.

Appearing on the BBC this morning he said that it was ‘totally unfair and absurd’ that his husband could not have the same pension inheritance rights that a woman would.

‘I worked for this company for 23 years and it didn’t matter if I was a man or a woman, if I was gay or straight. At the end of it, part of the benefits were a final salary pension scheme and part of that are spousal rights which allows your spouse to then get up to two thirds of your pension for the rest of their lives, if you die before them.

‘But because my partner, now my husband, is not a female, he would get a mere £500 or £600, whereas if I was to divorce him and marry the next women that would have me, she would get £50,000 a year. It seems totally unfair and absurd.’

James Welch, a legal director at Liberty, told the BBC that the cost to equalise the benefits for same sex couples would not cost the government a huge amount overall.

‘The government did a report two years ago when it tried to work out the costs, and it said equalisation of the position in relation to private employees would cost £1.1 billion. That may sound like a lot of money but in the scale of things, given pension liabilities it is not a great deal,’ he said.

He added that it is a test case and that this issue affects a lot of couples.

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