The Labour Peer had moved amendments both at Committee Stage and Third Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to require occupational pension funds to treat opposite and same-sex couples equally with regard to survivor benefits.
The compromise amendments agreed with the Government and being debated in the House of Lords today call for a review of these arrangements and crucially also give the government order-making powers so that they can instruct occupational funds to make changes as a result of the review.
Lord Alli said: “Throughout the debates on this Bill we have fought to defend the principle that all married couples should be treated equally. However, we were in danger of passing a Bill that breached that principle in regard to pensions. That’s why I’m pleased the government has listened to the case that has been made and recognised the need for change.”
At the moment an opposite sex couple, where the man was a member of an occupational pension scheme and died, his wife would be entitled to a survivor’s pension from my occupational pension scheme backdated to 1988.
However, if a same sex couple had one partner who was member of the same occupational pension scheme and died, the partner’s survivor’s pension benefit would only be backdated to 2005 – the date civil partnerships were introduced.
The Bill as drafted was proposing to take the inequality in the Civil Partnership Act and apply it to same sex marriages, instead of taking the position of opposite sex couples and equalising the pension arrangements.
The cost is to private occupational pension schemes. The Government’s estimate puts the maximum additional cost at approximately £80 million for those private schemes, although other estimates put that figure at £18 million – a tiny fraction of the size of occupational pension scheme funds.
Lord Alli said: “When you lose your husband, wife or long-term partner, it is, by all accounts, a terrible experience. The last thing you want to do is to have to argue your case to a pension fund
“Two-thirds of the private occupational pension schemes in this country believe that it is wrong to have different survivor benefit policies for different couples and have voluntarily changed their
“I do not believe we should allow one-third of occupational pension schemes to discriminate against married couples in the future only on the basis of sexual orientation.
“That’s why I’m pleased we have agreed these amendments and I look forward to the government taking action to ensure the principle of equality is enforced not just in legal but financial terms for all couples, whether gay or straight.”
Today’s Third Reading debate is effectively the last substantive parliamentary stage for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. If agreed today the Bill will then formally return to the Commons on Wednesday before going to HMTQ for Royal Accent to become law.
You can read the full text of the amendments here: