Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Supplementary evidence submitted by R Goldspink (MB 76)

Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Bill – survivor benefits for occupational pension scheme members

1. I write to support the evidence given to the Committee by Liberty on 14th February, as regards pension benefits, and specifically survivor benefits.

2. When the decision to restrict survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes for surviving civil partners was made (or rather, to allow their restriction), the argument given was that it was inappropriate to place a retroactive burden on pension funds and their sponsoring employers. Comparison was also made to the way in which widowers' benefits were restricted to service after 1988 in the state scheme.

3. The big flaw behind that argument, of course, is that employers and the state in 1985 knew which employees were female and which male, and that forecasts made in 1985 could therefore be made in certain knowledge of which employees were accruing potential survivor benefits (males) and which not (females) – albeit that even then it was not clear whether any specific male employee would indeed leave a widow, nor how long that widow would be able to draw the widow's pension.

4. In the case of civil partners and same-sex marriage, however, pension funds and employers are not able to make that calculation, given that they do not have reliable information on the sexual orientation of their members / employees. Responsible pension funds in 2000 would not, therefore, have been taking into account that they would not be providing survivor benefits to a given percentage of their employees' spouses based on sexual orientation. As a result, they would not be adversely impacted by having to pay survivor benefits for periods of service prior to December 2005.

5. The government itself acknowledges that two thirds of pension funds already do not avail themselves of the exception under the Equality Act. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall indicated that whenever that organisation has been called on to assist individuals get their scheme rules amended, that has been achieved, while Liberty pointed out that it has supported a successful case at an Employment Tribunal seeking to have the exception declared unlawful.

6. It cannot be right that Parliament is leaving it to individuals to contest provisions which could potentially substantially reduce the amount of survivor benefit a bereaved same-sex spouse will receive.

7. Now is the time for Parliament to right this wrong.

February 2013

Prepared 4th March 2013