DfE consults on extending teacher pension survivor rights to civil and same-sex partners

The Department for Education has launched a consultation into plans to extend survivor benefits under the teachers’ pension scheme to civil and same-sex partners.

The change, one of three proposed to the scheme, comes after the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the husband of former cavalry officer John Walker was entitled to the same benefits upon Walker’s death as he would have been had he been married to someone of the opposite sex.

The landmark ruling prompted wholesale reform of all public sector pensions.

The DfE also intends to remove a requirement for the completion of a nomination form for unmarried partner benefits in the teachers’ pension scheme.

Currently, for unmarried partners to qualify for a survivor’s pension they must have been nominated to receive the pension before the member’s death and to have been in a “financially interdependent and co-habiting relationship” for at least two years before the death.

This proposal was also prompted by a landmark Supreme Court appeal in 2017 where a woman from Northern Ireland had previously been denied payments from her late partner’s occupational pension scheme. The Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee had refused Denise Brewster a survivor’s pension because they were not married and the committee had not received the appropriate nomination form before her partner’s death.

Now, the government is proposing changes with retrospective effect from 1 April 2007 so that a survivor’s pension is paid to a person who meets surviving partner qualifying criteria but without the need for a nomination to have been completed.

The consultation also includes “other small technical changes and clarifications to ensure that the scheme operates as intended”, such as a new regulation that make clear to members that they have the option to elect for any death grant payment to be paid as a pension protection lump sum death benefit.

The consultation will run until June 25. Changes to the teachers’ pension scheme are expected to be announced by autumn 2019.

“These very important changes will make the Teachers’ Pension Scheme fairer for teachers and their spouses in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships, and will simplify the process for those in unmarried relationships,” said Nick Gibb, the schools minister.

“Over the next six weeks we will seek the views of a variety of stakeholders to ensure these changes properly meet our legal responsibilities, and I would urge all those involved to share their views.”

The DfE confirmed the changes would apply to college lecturers.

Teacher pensions have been in the news recently after it was announced that college contributions to them are set to rise from the current rate of 16.48 per cent to 23.6 per cent – an extra £142 million a year – from September 2019.

The DfE said last month it would be providing extra funding to cover the initial rise, but it is not clear for how long this government subsidy will last.