Pension rights for unmarried couples

John Mehtam

John Mehtam

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Common law spouses should now have the right to receive their late partner’s public sector pension payouts after a ruling in the Supreme Court.

John Mehtam, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the ruling could affect couples right across the UK.

“The case involved a woman who had lived with her partner as common law spouses for ten years, and she was initially refused payment from her partner’s pension following his death.

“But the Supreme Court overturned the decision and ruled that she should have full access to the payments.

“Unlike married couples, common law spouses have no special rights in their partner’s estates, but this case involved a pension scheme which changed its rules following new regulations that were introduced before the partner’s death.

“The new rules added rights to benefits for married spouses only, but the court said under the Human Rights Act, the rules must also apply to unmarried partners.”

Mr Mehtam said the ruling did not affect private company schemes as the regulations only covered schemes in the public sector.

“But pensions experts are now calling for consistency across all pension schemes, although this is unlikely to happen soon, and most private final salary schemes already make provision for unmarried partners.”

Mr Mehtam said common law spouses should check the rules of their employer’s company pension scheme.

“If your partner isn’t automatically covered, you can usually nominate them as a beneficiary, so ask the pension company how to do that.

“Most company pensions are money purchase type schemes, rather than final salary schemes, and the rules for these changed in 2015.

“They now allow you to nominate any individual, including a common law partner, as a beneficiary when you die, so if you haven’t updated your pension details lately, now would be a very good time to do it.”

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