The UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that an unmarried woman is entitled to the pension of her long-term partner. Denise Brewster and William Leonard “Lenny” McMullan became engaged on Christmas Eve 2009, but two days later McMullan died. McMullan, a long-term employee of Translink [corporate website], had paid into the Local Government Pension Scheme Northern Ireland for a total of 15 years, which is administered by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) and regulated by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (DENI) [official websites]. Brewster sought judicial review of NILGOSC’s decision not to award her McMullan’s pension as a cohabiting surviving partner. She argued that the 2009 regulation [text, PDF] requiring nomination of unmarried partners as a condition of eligibility for a survivor’s pension constituted unlawful discrimination and violatied Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [text, PDF]. The justices unanimously ruled Brewster was entitled to receive the pension and labeled the nomination form “unlawful discrimination” because it was not required for married couples.
The decision provided by the UK Supreme Court could have implications for the rights of cohabiting couples working in the public sector. Others organizations could change their pension schemes to allow unmarried couples to be automatically opted in to survivor’s pensions. Currently, most large occupational pension schemes in the private sector allow unmarried couples to recoup survivors’ benefits.