The Supreme Court has overturned a Court of Appeal decision that ruled a gay man’s husband would not be entitled to a spouse’s pension from his former employer. The landmark ruling deemed the Equality Act 2010 incompatible with an EU directive prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
John Walker entered into a civil partnership in 2006, which was later converted to marriage. However, the pension death benefits payable to his spouse were significantly less than they would have been for an opposite-sex spouse. An employment appeal tribunal and the Court of Appeal previously declared that a clause in the Equality Act allowed firms to restrict benefits to same-sex partners generated by periods of service before the Civil Partnership Act’s introduction in December 2005.
Delivering the Supreme Court judgement, Lord Kerr said there was no reason for Mr Walker’s former employer, Innospec, to think it would not be liable to pay a survivor’s pension to his lawful spouse. He claimed that to deny Mr Walker’s partner access to funds would amount to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation despite the fact the pension rights were earned before the Civil Partnership Act was introduced under UK law.
The unanimous judgement means that Mr Walker’s husband will now be entitled to a spouse’s pension, provided the couple remains married at the date of his death. Based on Mr Walker’s years of service to Innospec, his partner will be eligible to receive £45,000 a year, compared to the £1,000 he would receive under current law.
Paula Steele, managing partner at John Lamb Financial Planning, says: “As well as prompting the government to consider a change in law, this case also raises interesting questions about retrospective legislation.”