Court victory for same-sex survivor pension rights

14 July 2017

The Supreme Court has unanimously allowed Mr Walker’s appeal and makes a declaration that his husband is entitled on his death to a spouse’s pension, provided they remain married.

Background to the appeal
John Walker, the appellant in these proceedings worked for the respondent, Innospec Ltd, from 1980 until his retirement in 2003. Throughout that time he made regular contributions to the firm’s occupational pension scheme. Mr Walker is gay and has lived with his male partner since 1993. They entered into a civil partnership on 23 January 2006 and are now married.

In 2006 Mr Walker asked Innospec to confirm that, in the event of his death, they would pay the spouse’s pension, which the scheme provides for, to his civil partner. Innospec refused, because his service predated 5 December 2005, the date that civil partnerships were introduced in the UK, and any discriminatory treatment is therefore permitted under paragraph 18 of Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010. This provides that it is lawful to discriminate against an employee who is in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage by preventing or restricting them from having access to a benefit, facility or service the right to which accrued before 5 December 2005 or which is payable in respect of periods of service before that date. If Mr Walker was married to a woman (or indeed if he married a woman in the future) she would be entitled on his death to a “spouse’s pension” of about £45,700 per annum. As things stand at present, Mr Walker’s husband will be entitled to a pension of about £1,000 per annum (the statutory guaranteed minimum).

Mr Walker’s claim for discrimination was upheld by the Employment Tribunal, but Innospec’s appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal was allowed, and Mr Walker’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed. He now appeals to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court unanimously allows Mr Walker’s appeal and makes a declaration that (i) paragraph 18 of Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 is incompatible with EU law and must be disapplied and (ii) Mr Walker’s husband is entitled on his death to a spouse’s pension.

Mr Walker’s husband, provided he does not predecease him, and that they remain married at the time of Mr Walker’s death, is therefore entitled under the Framework Directive to a spouse’s pension calculated on the basis of all the years of Mr Walker’s service with Innospec.

TUC comment
The TUC has hailed this pensions victory for same-sex couples; General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This is a huge moment, which trade union members have long campaigned for. Pension law must catch up with the times, and discrimination against same-sex couples and those in civil partnerships must end.

The courts today (12 July 2017) have removed a barrier to equality. This ruling must end a system that has left thousands of people with added stress when they are grieving for loved ones.

The ruling results from the equality rights that come from the EU. The government must make sure that the Repeal Bill, and the Brexit deal, do not allow these rights to be rolled back after Britain has left the EU.”

Further information

Full details of the judgement are available on The Supreme Court’s website - Walker (Appellant) v Innospec Limited and others (respondents).