Breaking News: Could Co-habitees be on a level playing field with Spouses when it comes to Pensions?

posted: 8th February 2017

The Supreme Court has today ruled on a case regarding this very issue.

The case concerned 42 year old Ms Brewster who sadly lost her partner, Mr McMullan suddenly on Christmas night/early hours Boxing Day morning in 2009. Mr McMullan was aged 43 and had lived with Ms Brewster as co-habitees for the 10 years preceding his death. They had also got engaged on Christmas Eve 2009.

Ms Brewster has been involved in a long legal battle whereby she was arguing that she was being discriminated against by the pension system. She won her case initially in the High Court in Northern Ireland, but this decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. Five Supreme Court Justices have now ruled unanimously in Ms Brewster’s favour that she is in fact entitled to receive payments under the pension scheme.

Mr McMullan worked at Translink for 15 years where he paid into a Government Pension scheme administered by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC). Under the Local Government Pension Scheme (Benefits, Membership and Contributions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009; married partners automatically obtained a survivor’s pension, but unmarried partners only received the pension if they had complied with the “opt-in” requirement. Ms Brewster and Mr McMullan would have fulfilled this requirement by providing the NILGOSC with a signed declaration from both parties. The Judge in the High Court of Northern Ireland ruled it was “irrational and disproportionate to impose a disqualifying hurdle of this kind”.

Ms Brewster was represented by Helen Mountfield QC who argued that the opt-in nomination rule breached Article 14 (prohibits discrimination in the application of human rights) and Article 1 of the First Protocol (protection of property and every person’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The decision of the Supreme Court is likely to have a profound effect on the law in this area. This case specifically relates to public sector pensions upon the death of a partner; however other schemes may change their rules so that cohabiting partners automatically benefit as the surviving partner from the pension.

We will not know the true extent this decision will have on the law, but a precedent has been set.

Here at PMC Family Law, we have a team of specialist family law solicitors ready to help you! We can assist you in all areas of family law including issued faced by cohabitees, divorce and children matters. If you need any assistance please contact us today for your free initial consultation on 0151 375 9968.

By: Lindsey Potter - Paralegal