EXTENDING BENEFITS TO UNMARRIED PARTNERS
134. An issue which affects both pensions and compensation arrangements is the entitlement of unmarried partners. Neither Review document makes any proposals or comments on the question of inclusion of unmarried partners in the pension or compensation arrangements and the terms 'spouse' and 'widow(er)' are used in relation to the new proposals. However, the MoD informed us last November that
Following the consultation and the case of Anna Homsi, we will also need to look again at our position on unentitled partners.
Government policy on public sector pensions in relation to unmarried partners is that changes in pension rules will be considered if the members of the scheme want this, but that such changes would have to be cost neutral. This would mean that such an extension of benefits would either have to be funded from employee contributions or by reductions in other benefits available under the scheme.
135. Our predecessors in the last Parliament looked at the question of unmarried partners as part of their inquiry into Armed Forces personnel issues. They believed that it was an issue which needed to be reviewed with some urgency as it
... represents a divergence between the Services and wider society which it may no longer be possible to justify. It may deter young people from joining the Services; and perhaps more importantly, it may encourage someone to leave the Services if he or she finds a partner with whom they wish to live but for whom there is no recognition or provision from the Services.
The Minister for the Armed Forces acknowledged that if the treatment of unmarried partners was a recruitment and retention issue, it was a matter the MoD 'would ignore at our peril'. However, these are complex matters and it could be argued that it would be difficult for the MoD to change its policy on pension and compensation provision to include unmarried partners without also changing other provision such as its accommodation policy, and this wider context needs to be borne in mind.
136. Specifically in connection with the pension and compensation proposals, the MoD told us that extending benefits to unmarried partners is one of the issues it is re-examining. At the moment, the Minister said that: 'we do not know the extent of the problem; we do not have a measure of the scale of this other than we know it is a reality'. As a first stage in attempting to assess the number of potential additional beneficiaries, a definition of what constitutes an unmarried partner needs to be agreed.
137. The Australian Defence Forces recognise what they term as a 'de facto spouse', defined as 'a person of the opposite sex to the member, who lives with the member as husband or wife of that member on a bona fide domestic basis, although not legally married to the member.' The MoD are considering following the Australian criteria. These criteria were simplified in March 2002 to provide a more streamlined approval process and to allow new entrants to the forces to have their relationships recognised, and therefore to receive the relevant entitlements on enlistment. The new criteria require the partners to make a statutory declaration that they have a 'de facto' relationship, supported by four items of documentary evidence showing that they share a common household. The MoD has told us that, 'in view of EU legislation', any definition introduced for UK Armed Forces would have to include same sex partners.
138. The MoD intends to conduct a survey of 5,000 unmarried and separated personnel within the three Services to identify social and domestic trends, with an analysis of the results produced by July. Focus groups are also planned to assess whether Service personnel wish benefits to be extended to include unmarried partners and if so, whether they would be willing to contribute to the cost. The intention is to use two or three groups of about 12 people from each of the Services, covering a range of ranks, ages, trades and length of service. This seems to us an extremely small sample of views on which to base a major change of policy. The MoD told us that the focus groups were scheduled to begin earlier in the year but had to be postponed until April or May, because of preparations for our evidence session. We find this surprising.
139. The new Civil Service pension scheme will offer benefits to 'eligible' partners of either sex, if it can be demonstrated that it is an exclusive and committed relationship, involving financial dependence, confirmed in a joint declaration from both partners, with further evidence necessary to support the declaration when the scheme member dies. Member contributions to the Civil Service scheme will increase from the present rate of 1.5 per cent of pensionable pay to 3.5 per cent to fund improved benefits. 0.5 per cent of this 2 per cent increase will fund the extension of spouse benefits to unmarried partners (and the payment of such benefits for life). We believe there may well be valuable lessons which the MoD can learn from the process which the Civil Service has been through to arrive at the point of offering a new pension scheme which extends benefits to unmarried partners.
140. The issue of unmarried partners is one which the Armed Forces can no longer ignore and which should have been dealt with as part of the original reviews of pension and compensation arrangements. We expect to see appropriate provision included in the final pension and compensation proposals which the MoD brings forward in the autumn.
232 Ev 111. Anna Homsi is the unmarried partner of a serviceman killed in Sierra Leone who is reported to have been offered a £250,000 payment in lieu of a pension by the MoD. Back
233 Ev 38-39 Back
234 Second Report, Session 2000-01, HC 29-I, op cit, paragraph 151 Back
235 Q 187 Back
236 Q 187 Back
237 Q 181 Back
238 Ev 114, paragraph 4 and Ev 126-129 Back
239 Ev 114, paragraph 4; Q 181 Back
240 Ev 115, paragraph 5 Back
241 Ev 114, paragraph 6 Back
242 Pension Choices: Understanding your choices, Civil Service Pensions, January 2002, pp 56-57 Back
243 Information provided by Civil Service Pensions, Cabinet Office Back