HM Insights

How are cohabitees treated under pension schemes when their partner dies?

A recent court case in England, in which a surviving cohabitee challenged a pension scheme's decision not to recognise her right to benefits on her partner's death, has important implication for people throughout the United Kingdom.

In Langford v Secretary of State for Defence, the crucial point was that the cohabitant was still married to someone else at the time of her current partner's passing, a situation which can often arise.


Details of the case

Jane Langford was married to Alan Langford but had been estranged from him for almost 20 years. Over that time she had entered into a long term relationship with Christopher Green, an RAF officer. Christopher suddenly and unexpectedly died on 17 May 2011

During Christopher's lifetime, Jane became a member of the Armed Forces Pension Society. She and Christopher believed that she would be entitled to a survivor's benefit and pension from the Armed Forces scheme upon his death.

Unfortunately for Jane, the Armed Forces Pension Scheme excluded persons who were married to another person at the time of their death from receiving any such benefit.

It was Jane's position that this was unfair and unlawful discrimination in terms of Article 14 of European Convention on Human Rights. She initially took her case to the Tribunal (War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber) where it was dismissed. She then appealed her case to the Upper Tribunal where she was again unsuccessful.

On 19 June 2019, Jane appeared at the England and Wales Court of Appeal. It was held that the pension scheme conditions were unlawful.

What are the rights of cohabitants in Scotland when their partner dies?

This judgement, although an English case, is of great importance UK-wide as many public sector schemes contain a similar clause to that contained in the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.

In Scotland, although cohabitants are recognised as having rights to their partner's estate they are not placed on the same footing as married couples.

Many contentious cases have arisen in Scotland where a person has died while still married to their spouse, giving rise to competing inheritance claims between their former spouse and current cohabitant.

The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, Section 29 (6) stipulates that a claim by a cohabitant must be made within six months from the date of death. This timeframe is strictly applied by the courts. It is also important to remember that a claim can only be made in the event that the cohabitant dies without a valid Will.

Get in touch

Expert advice is necessary in order to maximise the value of any claim. Private Client lawyers work effectively alongside their family law colleagues to provide the best advice. Cases of this nature can be complex and may involve great legal expenses in resolution. Such costs and stresses can often be saved by preparing a Will.

Our Private Client and Family teams are happy to assist in the preparation of Wills and to provide you with advice about your personal circumstances. Please get in touch to find out more.

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