Legal battle won to improve pension rights

14 February 2017

A Woman who lost her long term partner has won a legal battle which is likely to improve pension rights for unmarried couples in the public sector

Denise Brewster, following a legal fight, has won her case at the UK's highest court. Ms Brewster has been deprived of payments from her late partner's pension and has argued she is a victim of "serious discrimination".

Ms Brewster and Mr McMullan lived together for 10 years and owned their own home. Mr McMullen died suddenly in 2009; two days after the couple got engaged. 

Mr McMullen worked for Northern Ireland Public Transport Service Translink for 15 years. If they had been married, Ms Brewster would have automatically shared the pension he had built up. 

Co-habiting couples were only eligible for survivors allowance if a nomination form had been completed. This form had not been completed, although Ms Brewster thought it had.

Ms Brewster argued in court that this system discriminated against her and initially won her case in the High Court where a judge ruled that it was "disproportionate to impose a disqualifying hurdle".

However, the decision was overturned in the Court of Appeal before the case headed to UK Supreme Court for a final decision. 

Five Supreme Court Justices ruled that she was entitled to receive payments under the pension scheme. 

The result could have implications for rights of co-habiting couples working in the public sector. 

They would still have to prove that, as a couple, they had been together for two years and were financially interdependent – for example, having a joint bank account.

Denise Brewster's eight-year battle for justice could benefit large numbers of public sector workers.

Nurses, teachers, civil servants, police and fire officers all have to fill in a nomination form if they want their partners to share in their pension if they die.

In this case, the form has been condemned as "unlawful discrimination" by the Supreme Court because you do not have to fill it in if you are married.

Further information on this story can be found on the BBC web site

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