Following the widely-reported case of the Supreme Court ruling concerning an individual who claimed a survivor pension after the death of her long term partner (who worked in Northern Ireland local government), we have been asked whether this affects MOD pensions.
Members have been particularly interested in whether it will change things for AFPS 75 Scheme cohabitees who are currently not eligible to receive a pension (which is limited to spouses and civil partners), and also whether it will change the status of those post retirement widows who are currently not eligible for a pension. The case in question concerned a requirement in the Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations 2009 that unmarried co-habiting partners be nominated by their pension scheme member partner in order to be eligible for a survivor’s pension. An application for a survivor’s pension was denied because her partner had not completed a nomination form, although in all other respects she was eligible. The Supreme Court judgement overturned the earlier ruling and in so doing threw into question the whole matter of whether nomination forms are now required at all to nominate cohabitees.
Our initial assessment (having taken our own legal advice and spoken to the MOD) is that this judgement is unlikely to have a significant or immediate impact upon the Armed Forces Pension Schemes (AFPS) because:
- Unlike the scheme in the judgement, none of the APFS have a nomination form for the survivor pension which can be paid to spouse/civil partner/co-habiting partner and children, if the applicant meets the eligibility criteria set out in the scheme rules.
- AFPS 75 does not allow survivor pensions to be paid to cohabitees, only to spouses or civil partners and so they do not meet the eligibility rules of the scheme under any circumstances. In the recent Supreme Court case, the cohabitee did meet all the eligibility criteria, she simply had not been nominated on the form. So although I have had a couple of tart conversations with members who have told me that they think the recent judgement should have changed the rules – we do not think it has. So the advice to those on AFPS 75 remains as it was in the December 16 newsletter, before this case emerged – not to engage in best-case planning. If you want to guarantee your partner receives a survivor’s pension you must marry them, preferably before you get diagnosed with a terminal illness which could invalidate their claim.
- The AFPS schemes 05 and 15 do have a nomination form, but for the death lump sum (not the pension). There is no such nomination form for AFPS 75. This type of nomination was apparently not covered by the Supreme Court judgement. However, given the Mr H case mentioned above we are scrutinising the judgement carefully for any read across.
- Post Retirement Widows. Widows of service personnel who married after their partner left the Service are not eligible for any pension entitlements earned before 1 April 1978. This rule applies across the whole public sector. The recent judgment changes nothing in this respect because such widows were never eligible for pension benefits. The recent judgement does not make non-entitled personnel under any pension scheme eligible, it simply means that entitled personnel do not have to be nominated in a nomination form.
The judgement is however a timely reminder to ensure you leave as little to chance as possible; if you are an eligible cohabiting partner, ensure you have the evidence to prove it, if your circumstances change, make sure you examine the implications and make changes as necessary, and if you have an AFPS 75 pension and are cohabiting rather than married, consider your position. We will continue to monitor the fallout and look for any wider implications, but our strong advice at the moment remains not to take false comfort from this judgement.