Liberty secures pension benefits for civil partners

02 September 2011

Following legal action brought by Liberty, a major multi-national company has agreed to give the civil partners of its employees the same pension benefits as spouses.

Ian Waddy, 73, and Trevor Skipp, 65, from Surrey, have lived together for 40 years and entered into a civil partnership in 2006. Mr Waddy, who retired in 1999, receives a pension from former employer Foster Wheeler Energy Ltd. Under the company’s pension scheme surviving spouses are entitled to 50 per cent when a member dies, but civil partners were originally excluded – so Mr Skipp would receive nothing if Mr Waddy passed away first. Liberty brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal on the couple’s behalf and prompted a rethink from Foster Wheeler.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said:

“That civil partners were not entitled to the same pension benefits as spouses was clearly discriminatory and I’m very pleased for my clients that Foster Wheeler has decided to rectify the situation.  But their reliance on the exemption in the Equality Act to defend the original rules underlines the urgent need for legal clarification in this area, which we hope this case will provide. In the meantime I’d ask any other couples in civil partnerships affected to contact Liberty.”

An exemption in the Equality Act 2010 seeks to allow pension schemes to discriminate against civil partners in respect of pension rights accrued before 5 December 2005, but Liberty argues this would contravene both European Union law and the European Convention on Human Rights.  While Foster Wheeler agreed to amend its scheme to give civil partners the same benefits as spouses, the company maintains that the old terms were not unlawful – and continues to defend the claim of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Mr Waddy said:

 I am delighted that Trevor and I are finally going to be treated equally to other members of the pension scheme, and hope that this case helps to achieve fairness for all couples in our situation.” 

A hearing is due to take place in Reading Employment Tribunal in January 2012 to determine whether the original pension scheme rules unlawfully discriminated against the couple on grounds of their sexual orientation.

Contact:Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

 Notes to Editors:

1. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005, enabling same sex couples for the first time to enter into a legal commitment equivalent to marriage. On the same date an exemption was created to permit employers and pension funds to exclude civil partners from spousal benefits attributable to service prior to 5 December 2005. This exemption is now contained in paragraph 18(1) of Schedule 9 of the Equality Act 2010.

2. Traditionally, occupational pension schemes state that when a member dies his or her spouse is entitled to 50 per cent of the value of the pension for the rest of his or her life, regardless of when the couple married. Some pension schemes have voluntarily extended this benefit to employees’ civil partners.

3. The exemption in the Equality Act 2010 potentially affects any employee who:

  1. is a member of an occupational pension scheme which includes benefits for members’ spouses,
  2. has pensionable service prior to 5 December 2005, and
  3. is in a civil partnership.

4. Messrs Waddy and Skipp argue that the purported exemption contravenes the EU Framework Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment, which requires member states to outlaw discrimination in the workplace on grounds of, among other things, sexual orientation. They also say that it is contrary to the fundamental principle of equality in EU law, and incompatible with Articles 8 (family life), 14 (non-discrimination) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (peaceful enjoyment of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights.