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COHABITEES SUCCESSFUL CLAIM TO A SURVIVOR’S PENSION: A MOVEMENT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?


By News
| 20 February 2017

You may have seen in the press the Supreme Court decision in Brewster.

This was a hard won battle by a Northern Irish lady to secure a small annual pension of £4,550 per annum when her long term partner and fiancée died on 26 December 2009 at the age of just 43.

The problem was that her partner had not returned the form nominating her to benefit from his local government pension. The nomination form was available from May 2009. He probably thought he had all the time in the world to return the form but failed to do so before he suddenly died in December of that year.

Ms Brewster was initially successful in the High Court, arguing that to prevent her receiving a survivor’s pension in these circumstances was discriminatory. She qualified for the pension, in that prior to her partner’s death they were living together as husband and wife and were financially interdependent, having lived together for over 10 years.

The Northern Ireland local government scheme appealed to the Court of Appeal and they were successful. It was held that to require cohabitees to nominate a partner to receive their
survivor’s pension was not onerous or irrational.

In the circumstances, Ms Brewster was forced to battle on to the Supreme Court and she has now finally won her case. The Supreme Court agreed with Ms Brewster that she had a legitimate expectation to benefit from her partner’s pension and that the requirement for her partner to complete a nomination form was not objectively justified in the circumstances.

This now brings Northern Ireland in line with the local government schemes in England Wales and Scotland, who have all removed the requirement for a nomination form to be completed. Other public sector schemes will no doubt now need to review carefully any requirements they have for parties to nominate formally.

Overall, it must be said that cohabitants are not in any way given the kind of protection in the law that married couples are, and this case is one small success which is moving the law slowly and I would suggest, inexorably, towards putting cohabitation on a similar footing to marriage.

If you require any further advice with regard to your position as a cohabitee or in relation to marriage generally, please do not hesitate to contact the writer of this article, Gemma Gillespie, on 01892 515022 or by email at gjg@cooperburnett.com

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