Employers with occupational pension schemes may need to consider amendments to scheme rules in light of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013, key provisions of which are due to come into force on 13 March 2014. The Act will allow same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage in England and Wales from 29 March 2014.
A statutory exemption effectively permits an employer’s defined benefit pension scheme to exclude a member’s civil partner from receiving death benefits to the extent they would be attributable to the period of the member’s pensionable service before 5 December 2005 (apart from any accrued contracted-out benefits, which must be provided in respect of the member’s contracted-out service from 6 April 1988). (The EAT has recently held this exemption to be lawful – see our HSF pensions ebulletin for details.) The same exemption will be available in relation to same-sex spouses.
Some schemes have provided civil partners with a more generous pension than the statutory minimum, equivalent to that of a legal spouse. In this event, employers may wish to make the same provision for same-sex spouses (to avoid anomalies arising where a civil partner converts their partnership into a marriage), although obviously there are costs implications. Employers would need to give their consent to amend the rules to this effect.