The case was brought to the UK’s highest court by John Walker, a retired businessman in an attempt to secure the same pension benefits upon his death for his husband as would have applied if he was to have a wife in the same situation.
The case came about after it was revealed that there is a caveat in the Equality Act that allows employers to exclude same sex civil partners and spouses from benefits paid into a pension fund before the Civil Partnership Act came into force in 2005. Mr Walker argued that his former employer’s pension scheme was acting unlawfully because it refused to pay his husband the equivalent of a widowed wife’s pension in the event of his death. Before the case was heard, Mr Walker’s husband stood to receive just £1,000 a year pension.
The favourable ruling by the Supreme Court was made on Wednesday 12 July 2017; it was also confirmed that companies taking advantage of the exemption within the Equality Act will be considered as breaking the law moving forward.
As it stands currently, occupational pension schemes usually allow the spouse of a deceased employee to receive 50% of the value of the pension for the rest of his or her life and, were Mr Walker married to a woman, she would receive about £45,700 a year as a widow’s pension.
Mr Walker and Liberty, the human rights group that acted for him, had argued before the Supreme Court that the exemption in the Equality Act is discriminatory and therefore unlawful; a unanimous decision was made in agreement and found that the exemption breaches EU equality laws.
The Supreme Court has handed down judgment in the case of Ilott –v- The Blue Cross and Others, the first case under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 to reach the Supreme Court.
The leading judgment is given by Lord Hughes and the case deals with the claim of an adult child pursuing an inheritance claim where the deceased has failed to make any testamentary provision for them.
The appeal arises out of a claim for reasonable financial provision brought by the daughter, Mrs Ilott, against the estate of her mother, Mrs Jackson. They had been estranged for approximately 26 years before Mrs Jackson’s death in 2004. Mrs Ilott left home at 17 and lived with her husband and five children in receipt of benefits. In her last will of 2002, Mrs Jackson left the majority of her estate to various charities and made no provision for her daughter. This decision had been reflected in earlier Wills by Mrs Jackson and Mrs Ilott had no expectation of benefitting from the estate.
At first instance, the Judge awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000. The charities challenged the award as did Mrs Ilott arguing the sum was too low and it deprived her of her means tested benefits. On appeal, Mrs Ilott was awarded £143,000 to buy the house she lived in and an option to receive a further £20,000 in two instalments. The Charities appealed.
The Supreme Court has held that the District Judge did not make the errors on which the Court of Appeal relied to alter his award. Referring to the 1975 Act the court must consider all factors within section 3 of the Act so far as they are relevant. For an applicant other than a spouse or partner, reasonable financial provision is limited to what it would be reasonable for maintenance only and does not represent any or everything which is desirable, nor is it limited to subsistence level.