Government will not legislate to equalise widowers’ survivor benefits

James Phillips reports...

The government has been accused of “dragging its heels” on pensions equality after ruling out amending the law to provide for higher survivor benefits for widowers.

In a written statement, published on Thursday (4 July), pensions and financial inclusion minister Guy Opperman said the government had concluded it would not make “any further retrospective changes” on survivor benefits.

The government had considered the results of a cross-departmental review of differences in survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes, which were published in 2014, but decided against amending the law.

Survivor benefits for widowers and widows were equalised after the 1990 Barber judgment, but accruals were only made from then onward, meaning women with long-service cannot provide full survivor pension rights to their partners.

Opperman said after “careful consideration”, the government had decided to just let the inequalities slowly die away.

“While this means that the differences in survivor benefits for accruals in past periods will remain for some, these will work their way out of the system in time.”

According to the 2014 review, just 1% of affected schemes – those which provided survivor benefits and these were accrued prior to 1990 – retained a difference between married men and married women.

Despite this, Royal London director of policy and former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb (pictured) said the government’s response was “deeply disappointing”.

“The report published in 2014 made clear that there remain clear unfairnesses between men and women in pensions and yet, five years later, the government still does not think that this issue is worth addressing,” he said.

“A generation of widowers will lose out as a result.”

The government’s decision to not act came as it confirmed it was now implementing the results of the landmark Walker v Innospec case, two years after the Supreme Court ruled survivor benefits for same-sex couples must be equalised to those granted to heterosexual couples.