In Secretary of State for Work & Pensions v Yates the High Court held that a widow’s state benefit should not be “up-rated” to reflect increases in inflation because her husband had been disqualified from such increases after moving abroad.

In this case the husband’s state pension had been frozen at 1975 prices because he had left the UK, disqualifying his state pension from being up-rated. Had he remained in the UK his state pension may have increased annually to reflect increases in inflation. In 2001 he married the claimant. The claimant was of pensionable age and became entitled to a state pension the week after their marriage. Her pension was based on her husband’s contributions, so was also disqualified from being up-rated. In 2002 she became a widow and entitled to a higher widow’s benefit. The Commissioner held that her higher widow’s benefit should be up-rated.

Carnwath LJ in the High Court disagreed with the Commissioner and held that the claimant widow’s benefit should also be frozen at 1975 prices and not be up-rated. He held that although her status changed from a married woman to a widow, she remained entitled to the same category of pension, albeit at a different rate. Therefore it was not necessary to revisit the basis of her disqualification from up-rating of benefits.

Comment: The High Court also commented that the Claimant had argued that calculating her pension at 1975 levels was unlawful discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human R/ights (the Convention) but this issue was not considered by the High Court.

In the earlier case of Carson and others v the UK the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that the UK’s decision to disqualify citizens resident in some countries outside the UK from receiving a state pension up-rated in line with inflation was not illegally discriminatory under article 14 of the Convention. In reaction to the ECHR’s decision the Department for Work and Pensions issued a statement confirming that it will continue to freeze the basic state pension paid to certain British residents overseas. For further information see EPB bulletin 13 November 2008.