Yesterday I secured a debate in Westminster to raise the plight of 12 million people missing out on receiving their partner’s pensions because they weren’t married – and to highlight inconsistencies over what constitutes an ‘eligible widow.’
This issue came to light when I was contacted by a constituent in Pilling whose partner of 23 years had died. Anthony Sysum had been an employee of British Nuclear Fuels and a member of the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA) pension scheme for 37 years. When he died the UKAEA Pension Scheme refused to award a survivor’s pension to his partner Eve, because they were not married.
When I contacted the UKAEA pension scheme they simply told me that ‘under the scheme rules, the member has to be legally married or in a civil partnership to be eligible for a dependent’s pension to be paid out after their death. Therefore, there is no pension due.’ This is just so wrong. When I investigated this further the current UKAEA scheme highlights a glaringly inconsistent approach in the Rules regarding what constituents an ‘eligible widow.’
While a widow’s pension will be awarded to survivors married to, or in a civil partnership with a scheme member at the time of the member’s death – this benefit ends should the survivor remarry or live with another as though they were married.
So, whilst the scheme Rules employ a very narrow definition of what constitutes an ‘eligible widow’ in making any widow’s pension award, the scheme is considerably less narrow in its definition and interpretation of ‘partnership’ when removing that pension at a later date. This is clearly discriminatory, and the rules should be changed.
I asked Chris Skidmore, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategywhy the UKAEA Scheme was excluded from other pension reforms where unmarried partners could receive benefits?
There needs to be urgent action to address the anomalies across the remaining public service pension schemes like UKAEA, and most importantly action taken to make right the injustice and discrimination experienced by survivors like my constituent Eve.
The Minister responded to say that this particular scheme is no longer open to new members and he’s agreed to meet with me to discuss my concerns further.
If you would like to contact me about this issue (or indeed anything else you need help with) then please email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office 01253 490440.