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Landmark Ruling Against Discrimination For Unmarried Couples

View profile for Helen Dexter
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Last week five judges in the Supreme Court found in favour of Denise Brewster, a lady who claimed that she should receive the pension of her late partner who had died two days after they had got engaged.

Ms Brewster’s partner, Lenny McMullan, had worked for a public transport service in Northern Ireland for 15 years and during that time had paid into a local government occupational pension scheme. Ms Brewster and Mr. McMullan had been partners for 10 years, but when he died Ms Brewster was told she could not benefit from Mr. McMullan’s pension.  If Ms Brewster and Mr. McMullan had been married Ms. Brewster would have automatically benefited from the pension.

The application before the Supreme Court was about discrimination. Discrimination regarding forms that had to be completed; not whether it was discriminatory for a spouse to benefit from a pension when a cohabiting partner could not.

In order for Ms Brewster, as a cohabiting partner, to benefit from the pension Mr. McMullan should have  completed a nomination form stating that he wished Ms. Brewster to receive his pension upon his death.  Such nomination forms however were not required by the pension scheme for a spouse to benefit.  This was unanimously found by the judges as discriminatory.

In his judgement Lord Kerr stated that the requirement in the pension  regulations that required a nomination was to be disapplied.  Therefore Ms. Brewster could claim the pension.


This of course is great news for Ms. Brewster. The Treasury, which administers the pension scheme of which the late Mr. McMullan was a member, will be examining their many pension schemes.  However it does not necessarily mean that all partners will as of right receive their late partners pension.  Pension funds are individual trusts and the pension trustees have very wide powers and discretion. Each one often has different rules.


It is essential that people who live together consider their assets, pensions and what would happen if one of them died. Particularly how would the survivor cope financially. Planning is essential.  A Will is an important part of this planning as the intestacy laws make no provision for a partner or cohabitee.

Speak to me or any of the team for advice.