In September we had the final instalment in the long-running saga of Mr Walker v Innospec. The case dates back to 2012 and concerns civil partners and their entitlement to a spouse’s pension.
Mr Walker retired from Innospec Limited in 2003 on an annual pension of £85,000. He entered into a civil partnership in 2005 but was told by the pension scheme that his partner would only be entitled to a contracted-out pension of £500 a year. If he had married a wife, she would be entitled to half his £85,000 pension. However, the scheme rules contained a provision limiting a civil partner’s pension to half the pension accrued since 5 December 2005. As Mr Walker had already retired by December 2005, no pension was due.
This clear and obvious anomaly resulted from the fact that civil partnerships did not exist before 5 December 2005. A schedule to the Equality Act 2010 says it is not discrimination if a civil partner is prevented from access to a pension in respect of a period of service before 5 December 2005.
Mr Walker took his case through the employment tribunals and on to the Court of Appeal. The Appeal judges held that, although the case certainly appeared to be unfair, they were not entitled to rewrite the laws of England. What they could do was to interpret the law and, in this situation, the law was perfectly clear and unambiguous.
When Parliament was debating the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2012, it found that broadly two-thirds of pension schemes had voluntarily adopted the same pension benefits for civil partners as for spouses. This case has finally established what the law is for pension schemes and civil partners (and indeed same-sex marriages). However, the case has also spotlighted the injustice of the legal restriction.
It will always be possible for schemes to equalise benefits voluntarily by including civil partners and same-sex spouses in the scheme’s definition of “spouse”. The actual cost of doing so will probably be minimal. Pension scheme actuaries usually make an assumption that a certain proportion of members will be married – around half – and those assumptions will not have to be radically revised.