Back to News

Woman fights for share of partner’s pension

Author: Gail Harris

Bureaucratic rules were at the heart of a woman’s fight for access to her late partner’s pension.

Denise Brewster and her 43 year-old partner Lenny McMullen, had lived together for ten years, having bought a house together in 2005. The couple decided to get engaged on Christmas Eve in 2009, but Lenny tragically died unexpectedly just two days after the engagement. He had not made a Will.

Mr McMullan had worked for Translink, Northern Ireland’s public transport service, for 15 years before his death. Both he and Ms Brewster had paid into the local government pension scheme throughout that time.

Although long-term co-habiting partners were eligible for a survivor’s pension under the scheme, this was subject to a nomination form being completed; a form that is not required by married couples.

Ms Brewster commented: “In reality the form is just an additional unnecessary bureaucratic requirement, one which unfairly penalises the families of cohabitees who miss out the financial support their loved ones assumed they would receive on their death.

Instead, all the money we paid into the scheme just goes back into the scheme’s system. Neither me or anyone belonging to Lenny receives it.”

The judge in the first hearing said: “One thing is however clear and that it made no sense for the deceased to ‘wish’ disentitlement upon the women to whom he was engaged. It is irrational and disproportionate to impose a disqualifying hurdle of this kind on the application who was indisputably in a qualifying relationship that fulfilled the substantive conditions of the scheme. “

However, the Court of Appeal over turned the decision. Ms Brewster then took her case to the Supreme Court, who ruled unanimously in favour of her right to receive payments from her late partner’s pension.

The Law Society of England and Wales welcomed the outcome of the case. Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society, commented: “The decision … provides welcome legal clarity for unmarried couples living together and is a step towards equal treatment across the diverse family circumstances people now create.

Other areas of unequal treatment, such as the law around what happens to your property if you die without a Will, unfortunately still remain.

A family solicitor can help unmarried couples make arrangements to ensure outdated legal rules do not mean that their partner misses out should something happen to them.”

Get in touch today