April 26, 2017

Co Down woman wins case for late partner's pension

09 February 2017, 12:42 | Clarence Schmidt

Denise Brewster told the Supreme Court she was the victim of serious discrimination

Denise Brewster told the Supreme Court she was the victim of serious discrimination

AN UNMARRIED Irish woman has won a legal battle at the Supreme Court in London to secure her deceased partner's pension.

Five Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled she is entitled to receive payments under the pension scheme.

Giving the Supreme Court's ruling, Lord Kerr ordered the nomination requirement in the 2009 regulations to be "disapplied", saying that the requirement for a surviving cohabitant to be nominated by the scheme limits Ms Brewster's rights under Article 14 of the Human Rights Act.

Ms Brewster and Lenny McMullan lived together for 10 years and owned their own home.

Mr McMullan died suddenly two days after the couple had got engaged on Christmas Eve in 2009. The High Court of Northern Ireland ruled in her favour, but this decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

'With more than six million people living together as couples and the numbers rising every year, this is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. She argued that she was the victim of "serious discrimination" and has now won her case at the Supreme Court.

Over time, the rules of the scheme may be changed to accommodate the ruling - and reflect the fact that local government schemes in England, Wales and Scotland already pay survivors' pensions to unmarried co-habiting couples (as do most private occupational schemes).

Today's ruling will raise further questions about the differentiation in the new rules between married and unmarried couples.

Under local government regulations from 2009, "unmarried co-habiting" partners must be nominated by their pension scheme member partner to be eligible for a survivor's pension.

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At the time of his death, Mr McMullan was employed by, and had worked for public transport operator Translink for around 15 years, during which time he had paid into the local government pension scheme.

This involves filling out a form, to be signed by both partners.

Ms Brewster explained that challenging the decision was never about money, but about how she was treated.

The relevant clauses of European Convention on Human Rights lay down that you must have peaceful enjoyment of your possessions, and that your rights should be secured without discrimination.

Brewster's lawyers had argued that the requirement of the nomination form was disproportionate and in effect discriminatory.

Nurses, teachers, civil servants, police and fire officers all have to fill in a nomination form if they want their partners to share in their pension if they die.

The judgement, unanimously supported by the Court and delivered by Lord Kerr, said: "There is no rational connection between the objective, which was to remove the difference of treatment between a longstanding cohabitant and a married or civil partner, and the imposition of the nomination requirement and therefore its discriminatory effect can not be justified".

He said: 'It is also found in many defined benefit pension schemes in the private sector, of which there are around 11 million members.

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