The courts have made a number of important decisions over recent years in relation to survivor benefits in pension schemes and equality.
In 2017, in a case known as Walker v Innospec, the Supreme Court held that occupational pension schemes must provide civil partners (at that time all civil partners were same sex) and same sex spouses with the same survivor benefits as opposite sex married couples. In 2020 an Employment Tribunal decided in a case known as Goodwin v Department for Education that benefits for male survivors of opposite sex marriages should be equal to other categories of survivor.
Some changes were made to the Scheme in January 2020, when same sex marriages were introduced in Northern Ireland. However, there remain some slight differences under the current Scheme for some male survivors who were married or in a civil partnership with a female member who died, generally where the marriage or civil partnership has occurred after the member left the Scheme and where the deceased was a long-term member of the Scheme. There were also similar differences for some survivors of same-sex civil partnerships, where the member died prior to the changes in 2020.
The Department intends to make amending regulations so that all survivors who were married or in a civil partnership with a deceased member are treated equally, regardless of the gender of either the member or the survivor, in the same circumstances. NILGOSC welcomes this change, which will promote equality for all our members. The other rules around calculation of benefits will remain the same.
It is likely that these changes will have retrospective effect to 2005, when civil partnerships were first introduced in Northern Ireland. We cannot be sure of this until the Department has carried out its public consultation and the regulations are made.
When the changes are made, you will not need to take any action. If your benefits may have been affected, NILGOSC will contact you.