Under UK law, civil partners must be treated in the same way as spouses after the death of a scheme member, but this is only in respect of non-contracted-out pensionable service completed after 5 December 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force.
But a recent employment tribunal case, Walker vs Innospec and others in November 2012, has called into question the UK’s implementation of European equality legislation in relation to pension rights for civil partners and challenges this orthodoxy.
Walker had been a member of the Innospec company pension scheme since his employment began with Innospec in 1980.
In 2006, he entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner. Walker, who has since retired, brought a claim against his scheme providers Innospec, claiming that its refusal to pay his civil partner for his pre-2005 service was discriminatory.
The figures were alarming: the value of the spouse’s pension that would have been payable to Walker’s partner in the event of his death was about £500 a year. This compared with an estimated £41,000 a year based on his full period of pensionable service: the amount that would have been paid had Walker had a spouse.
Unexpectedly, the tribunal found in Walker’s favour, ruling that UK law should be interpreted compatibly with the European Directive to prevent Innospec from relying on this cut-off date.
Innospec has sought leave to appeal. This case will be one to watch: if it remains the position, it could open up the possibility of an abundance of claims from civil partners against their pension providers.
Michael M Jones is a partner at Charles Russell