The Department for Education (DfE) has equalised survivor benefits for both male and female same-sex couples in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, but has not updated the rules for heterosexual female teachers and their male widowers.
In an update published 9 April on the Teachers’ Pensions website, the DfE said it had updated the rules following the Supreme Court ruling on the case Walker v Innospec. In July 2017, the Court ruled that same-sex couples that are married or in a civil-partnership should have the same pension benefits as heterosexual couples.
The scheme explained that under the new rules the change applies from the date civil partnerships and same-sex marriages were implemented, which were 2005 and 2014, respectively. The survivor benefits will be in relation to service from 1 April 1972, or 6 April 1978 if the marriage was after the last day of pensionable service.
“The benefits that this will provide to same-sex survivors will be dependent upon when the deceased member was employed, their pensionable earnings and the length of their service,” the scheme said. It added that the scheme will work in conjunction with the DfE to implement the change, and will provide further details on its approach and timescales in due course.
Last September, a petition was launched calling for the equalisation of survivor benefits for widows and widowers of members in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Created by Shena Lewington, it explained that despite both men and women paying exactly the same contributions into the pension scheme, and eligible for equal pension benefits, survivor benefits are not equal.
The scheme provides for their surviving partners to receive 50 per cent of their pension. However, for the purposes of calculating these survivors’ benefits, male teachers leaving a widow have all their years of service from 1972 included. Female teachers (and until now same-sex couples) have all service prior to 1988 disregarded.
Commenting on the update, Lewington said she is “extremely pleased” that the government has “finally responded” to the ruling of the Supreme Court in July 2017.
“I now hope that they will in due course find a way to equalise pension benefits for all legal relationships, as Nick Gibb assured the House of Commons in January 2018 that the government “believes that it is right that married same sex couples and civil partners should be treated equally to married opposite sex couples.”
In another document on the scheme’s website, the DfE said the government is not extending the same treatment to male survivors of female teachers. It referenced the European Court of Justice judgment on Barber, which require schemes to provide equal survivor benefits for males who survive their female spouse in relation to service from May 1990. The Teachers’ Pensions Scheme provides survivor benefits for males who survive their female spouse in relation to service from 6 April 1988.
“The government’s position remains that benefit entitlements should generally be determined in light of the rules applicable at the time the member served. To do otherwise would make defined benefit pension schemes unmanageable and unaffordable, and would mean that subsequent generations pick up the costs of improving benefits beyond those envisaged at the time,” it added.
Furthermore, the DfE said that it has not responded to a review on survivor benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2014 because it is a “complex area” and thorough consideration of the issue takes time. “No final decisions have been made on these issues. The government will respond in due course,” it added.