In Brief

Unmarried woman wins right to partner's pension

Case could have implications for co-habiting couples working across the public sector

An unmarried woman has won the right to her late partner's pension in a Supreme Court ruling that could "improve the pension rights of millions of unmarried couples across the UK", says the Daily Telegraph.

The case "was closely watched" by pension schemes which could now change their rules, says the BBC.

Denise Brewster and Lenny Mullan, who worked for the Northern Ireland public transport service Translink for 15 years, had been together for a decade when he died suddenly on Boxing Day in 2009.

The couple had got engaged just two days earlier – but as they were not married, and Brewster had not been formally nominated for survivor's benefits as required under the scheme's rules, Brewster, who is in her early 40s, was denied any allowance.

Following a seven-year legal battle, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled she was nonetheless entitled to receive payments, saying the nomination form amounted to "unlawful discrimination".

Unmarried partners are typically required to fill in a form in order to receive benefits across the public sector – and even some private sector – pension schemes.

The case could have implications for the rights of co-habiting couples working in the public sector, including nurses, teachers, civil servants and police. 

However, "it is still unclear whether this would lead to any retrospective change in the rules", says the BBC's Simon Gompertz.

Nicola Waldman, a private client partner at the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, thinks the court ruling could prompt more cases of this kind that could affect the tax system more broadly.

"What is particularly interesting about this case is whether it will spark fresh legal challenges in other areas of perceived discrimination against cohabiting couples, including inheritance tax and capital gains tax," Waldman said.

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