A Co Down woman has won an appeal to Britain's Supreme Court after being denied payments from her late long-term partner's occupational pension.
Denise Brewster, 42, a lifeguard from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, challenged a ruling that she was not automatically entitled to a "survivor's pension" as she would have been if the couple had been married.
The justices unanimously ruled Brewster was entitled to receive the pension and labeled the nomination form "unlawful discrimination" because it was not required for married couples.
She had used crowd-funding to raise the money to bring that case.
The couple finally became engaged on Christmas Eve 2009, but tragically, Mr McMullan died suddenly not much more than a day later. The High Court in Belfast originally ruled in her favour, but this was overturned on appeal. He was paying into Northern Ireland's local government pension scheme. It refused and so she appealed to the Supreme Court which allowed the appeal.
Today's ruling could mean that other public sector schemes could change their rules so unmarried couples automatically benefit from survivor's pensions without being opted in.
Those in English and Welsh local schemes, which have already changed their rules regarding this procedure, do not have to nominate a partner to receive benefits but simply prove they were living together as if they were married, according to trade union UNISON. They must also show they have lived together for two years before the date the nomination form was submitted to the pension scheme and two years before the date of death.
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The Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) is the public body which is the administrator of the Local Government Pension Scheme.
"NILGOSC will take all necessary steps to comply with the Court's direction regarding the payment of a pension to Ms Brewster as quickly as possible".
Ordering the nomination requirement in the 2009 regulations be "disapplied", the judge said there was "no rational connection between the objective and the imposition of the nomination requirement".
These prohibit discrimination in the way human rights are applied and also protect a person's right to property and the peaceful enjoyment of possessions.
Giving the Supreme Court's ruling, Lord Kerr said: "To suggest that, in furtherance of that objective, a requirement that the surviving cohabitant must be nominated by the scheme member justified the limitation of the appellant's Article 14 right, is, at least highly questionable". "However, ordinarily where a scheme offers a survivor's pension to someone who is not a spouse or civil partner the death grant is given at the absolute discretion of the trustees whether or not a nomination had been made by the member".
Responding to the decision, Old Mutual Wealth pension expert Jon Greer says the message for both defined benefit and defined contribution pension holders is not to make any assumption about who will inherit their pension when they die.