It is rare for a pensions issue to make the top of the news, but yesterday’s Supreme Court judgement about the Denise Brewster case could be very significant.
Miss Brewster’s fiancé had been a member of a Northern Ireland Local Government scheme at the time of his death. The rules for the Northern Ireland Local Government pension scheme of 2009 allow for the payment of dependant’s pension benefits to an ‘eligible partner’, but only if both people concerned had completed the appropriate nomination form. (It is not necessary to complete the form to secure payment to a spouse – this is automatic.) In this case they had not completed the form therefore the pension had not been paid. However Miss Brewster fulfilled all the other criteria that would entitle her to a dependant’s pension, and the supreme court ruled that the lack of the nomination form was not a sufficient reason for denying her that award. It was therefore ruled that the pension should be paid. Read the full judgment here.
What are the implications for the Armed forces? For the 2005 and 2015 Armed Forces schemes, payments of dependents pensions can be made to “eligible partners” following the death of a scheme member. Eligible partner status can be established by evidence of cohabitation etc – no nomination forms need to be completed, providing recipients fulfil the qualification criteria in every other way. This is exactly the same for spouses. So no effect there.
However, for the 1975 scheme dependents pensions will not be paid to unmarried partners (even fiancés) but only to those who were married to the scheme member. The only exception to this is where the death occurred during active service and was directly attributable to service – in such cases the pension would be paid to an eligible partner, even if there had been no marriage, and again no nomination form is required.
There may be potential that this judgement, through the publicity that it has attracted, might lead to pressure for a change in the way that the 1975 scheme operates, for eligible partners to be included for potential dependant’s benefits even if the death is not deemed attributable. The Forces Pension Society will be very close to this issue and as ever will play a full part in representing the views of Armed Forces pensioners.
But change will not come quickly. In the meantime, our strong advice to those AFPS75 members in this situation is to “tie the knot”.