Same-sex couples will now have the same pension rights as heterosexual couples.
In a landmark ruling which could prove a game changer for thousands of same sex couples, the UK Supreme Court today – Wednesday 12th July – overturned a 2015 Appeal Court ruling which upheld an exemption in the Equality Act. The exemption allowed employers to opt out of giving spousal benefits to same sex couples in respect of pension funds paid into prior to 2005. There was no dispute over benefits accrued from contributions made since 2005.
John Walker, a 66 year old former calvary officer, retired from chemicals group Innospec Ltd in 2003 after working for the company for more than 20 years. During his employment tenure he made the same pension contributions as his heterosexual colleagues.
Meeting in London, the Supreme Court, while noting that the legal status of gay and lesbian employees has been transformed over recent years, ruled that the loophole granting the exemption was unlawful and was in breach of EU law, meaning that any spousal pension must be calculated on the basis of all Mr Walker’s years of service, irrespective of his partner’s gender.
Today’s ruling marks the end of a five year battle for Mr Walker which started with an Employment Tribunal in 2012. Speaking following the ruling, Mr Walker said: “I am absolutely thrilled at today’s ruling, which is a victory for basic fairness and decency. Finally this absurd injustice has been consigned to the history books – and my husband and I can now get on with enjoying the rest of our lives together.
“But it is to our Government’s great shame that it has taken so many years, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and the UK’s highest court to drag them into the 21st century. In the years since we started this legal challenge, how many people have spent their final days uncertain about whether their loved one would be looked after? How many people have been left unprovided for, having already suffered the loss of their partner?
“What I would like from Theresa May and her ministers today is a formal commitment that this change will stay on the statute books after Brexit.”
Since the European Communities Act 1972, UK Courts have the right to assert the primacy of EU over UK law at their discretion where there is a conflict. Mr Walker’s lawyer, Emma Norton, said: “We are delighted the Supreme Court recognised this pernicious little provision for what it was – discrimination against gay people, pure and simple
“But this ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights protection the EU gives us. We now risk losing that protection. The Government must promise that there will be no rollback on LGBT rights after Brexit – and commit to fully protecting them in UK law.
“How else can John be sure he and others like him have achieved lasting justice today?”
Government figures suggest that the Supreme Court judgement could cost business more than £100 million in retrospective claims.