Northern Ireland

Judge rules pension refusal 'was irrational'

An unmarried woman denied a survivor's pension because she was not nominated by her long-term partner suffered irrational treatment, a judge has said.

Mr Justice Treacy ruled it was wrong to impose a disqualifying hurdle on Denise Brewster.

He said: "It made no sense for the deceased to wish disentitlement upon the woman to whom he was engaged."

Ms Brewster challenged a refusal to pay her a pension following the death of her partner, William Leonard McMullan.

The couple had lived together for 10 years when Mr McMullan died suddenly in December 2009.

At the time of his death he had worked for Translink for 15 years, paying into an occupational pension scheme administered by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC).

Earlier in 2009 co-habiting partners became eligible for survivor's allowances for the first time if they have been nominated.

'Inconsistent'

Although half of a £68,000 death grant was paid out to Ms Brewster, NILGOSC declined to award her a pension, claiming it had no discretion under the relevant local lovernment pension scheme regulations.

Lawyers for Ms Brewster argued that the decision breached her human rights and discriminated against her on the basis of unmarried status.

They claimed that co-habiting partners are treated less favourably than married partners due to requirement placed on them to make a nomination.

Mr Justice Treacy pointed out that the aim of this part of the scheme was to put unmarried, stable, long-term partners in a similar position to married couples and those in a civil partnership, entitling them to a pension without discrimination on the grounds of status.

"The unusual feature of this case is that the means, i.e. the requirement for nomination, appear to be inconsistent with the legitimate aim," he said.

The judge also noted that if an allowance is not awarded to Ms Brewster, the payments made by Mr McMullan will be lost to them and may be used for the overall benefit of other contributors.

"It surely could not have been his desire to swell the pension fund for the benefit of mere strangers," he said.

Granting the judicial review application, Mr Justice Treacy ruled: "It is irrational and disproportionate to impose a disqualifying hurdle of this kind on the applicant who was indisputably in a qualifying relationship in that it fulfilled the substantive conditions.

"In this case the means defeated the aim."

A further hearing to decide on remedies will take place later this month.