Unions seek government talks after court ruling on partner pension entitlement

Prospect says landmark judgement could have significant implications for all public-sector pension schemes with similar rules

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By Richard Johnstone

19 Jul 2019

Civil service trade unions are seeking clarification from government on the implications of a court decision that saw a woman win the right to her late partner’s pension.

The Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday that Jane Langford was entitled to the pension of her late partner, Royal Air Force commodore Christopher Green, despite being disqualified under current rules.

Langford and Green has been in a relationship for 15 years when he died unexpectedly in 2011 but were not married.


Although the rules for the armed forces pensions scheme, and those across the public sector including the civil service, entitled meant pensions could be received by unmarried partners, this did not apply in Langford’s case because she had not formally dissolved her marriage to her husband.

However, the Court of Appeal said such a rule, which also exists in other public sector schemes, was against Langford’s human rights.

Lord Justice McCombe said the rule was "unlawful and cannot be justified or proportionate in Ms Langford's case".

Following the judgment, Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said that the decision had “significant implications for all public sector pension schemes with similar rules about marriage and entitlement to partners’ benefits”.

He said the union was looking into the implications of the case and was “keen to discuss the potential implications for the civil service pension schemes with the Cabinet Office as soon as possible”.

“The impact of marital status on entitlement to an inherited pension after the death of a civil servant has resulted in terrible situations with unmarried partners left in financial distress because they had no right to an ongoing pension,” he said. “It has long been Prospect’s policy to secure benefits for all partners, regardless of marital status, and hopefully this ruling opens up new legal grounds to argue for that.

“This is a landmark judgment and it potentially has significant implications for all public sector pension schemes with similar rules about marriage and entitlement to partners’ benefits.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told Civil Service World: "PCS is looking further at this ruling and will consult our lawyers about whether it can be applied more widely to other schemes.”

The Ministry of Defence, which is leading on the case for government, has been approached for a response.

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