Supreme Court decision likely to cause headaches for pensions administrators

February, 2017 Print

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The recent Brewster decision, made by the Supreme Court, is expected to have significant implications for unmarried couples in UK pension funds.

Denise Brewster won the right to a survivor’s pension after her long-term partner, who was a member of the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC), died, without formally nominating her as the recipient of his pension. Brewster was initially denied survivors’ benefits, but after a long legal battle, this was ruled to be unlawful discrimination. Now other public sector schemes are looking at the implication and scope of the judgement. A spokesman for the Treasury said: “We will need to examine the implications carefully.”

Daniel Taylor, director at pensions administration firm Trafalgar House, said that the decision would inevitably lead to a rise in member complaints in the private sector, as it would change unmarried couples’ expectations over their pension rights. “Whenever a case like this hits the press, members are given a false expectation and it is pension scheme administrators who are on the frontline trying to manage those discussions. Unless there is proactivity from schemes to explain that they are unlikely to be affected, then members will assume that this ruling gives their cohabiting partner automatic access to their death benefits – which will inevitably cause a sharp rise in complaints.”

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