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Till death us do paperwork

The recent decision that Mrs Brewster should receive a widow’s pension from the Northern Ireland Local Government Pension Scheme was nothing to do with married v. co-habiting, but all about paperwork.

Some pension scheme death benefits are paid at the complete discretion of the Trustees. Their decision cannot be challenged although the Trustees must show that they have been through the correct process of :

  • applying the scheme rules correctly,
  • take account of all relevant evidence including your expression of wish form, and
  • consider everyone eligible, and ask the right questions about circumstances of potential recipients

Some schemes, particularly in the public sector, do not give a decision-maker any discretion on whom the payment should be made to.  Instead, the rules or regulations, will closely define who payments can be paid to.  For instance, the rules may require a payment can only be made to the deceased’s married partner or to a person nominated by the member.

Denise Brewster’s partner was a member of the Northern Ireland Local Government Pension Scheme.  The scheme rules only paid a pension to a co-habiting partner if the member had nominated them.  Her long-term partner died in 2009. She was refused a pension because her long term partner had not nominated her.  Ms Brewster challenged this requirement and claimed it was discriminatory because a similar requirement to give a nomination was not asked of married partners.  Ms Brewster’s challenge was recently upheld by the UK Supreme Court who agreed the requirement for a nomination form was unlawful discrimination.

This ruling will likely have implications for all pension schemes that currently have similar requirements for payment of death benefits to unmarried partners. However, perhaps the wake-up call for all of us is to not take anything for granted but check with your pension schemes (past and present) on whom the benefits will be paid, complete the paperwork and review it each year, as circumstances do change.

If you've got a question about your pension or want to find out more about death benefits more generally, please call our team direct on 0300 123 1047 (Mon- Fri 9-5). 

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