Petition over teacher pension gender inequality gathers pace

A petition to force the government to equalise the way teachers’ pensions transfer to their partners is gathering strength.

Under the current system male teachers who accrued pension between 1972 and 1988 can pass 50 per cent of the final amount to their wives if they die after retirement, but this privilege does not extend either to husbands of female teachers or individuals in same-sex relationships.

A landmark ruling made by the Supreme Court has however recently left the door ajar for a change in the rules.

Judges ruled in favour of John Walker, an employee at the chemicals company Innospec, who argued that if he died, his male partner should receive survivors’ benefits based on the total number of years he paid into the company pension scheme, rather than on just his service from December 5, 2005, when civil partnerships were first introduced in the UK.

The cost of redressing the imbalance would be huge

The court agreed with him that this would have been the case had he been married to a woman, and declared a certain clause in the 2010 Equality Act as “incompatible with EU law”.

Following the decision, campaigners have launched a petition to convince the government to “equalise survivor benefits for widows and widowers in the Teachers Pension Scheme”.

Shena Lewington, who set the petition up, said she was motivated by “incredulity” after she found such inequality in public sector pensions.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling means it is possible that it will be force of law that makes the Department for Education changes their lines about teacher pension equality,” said Lewington, who worked as a primary teacher for 30 years.

She has written to Nick Gibb, who is both schools minister and minister for equalities, to call for a review of pensions for teachers over 50.

She received a response from the teachers’ pensions policy team, which said the issue was being looked at with teaching unions and confirmed the Walker vs Innospec judgment was already under discussion at various government departments.

They admitted “the outcome of this case may affect all public sector pension schemes”.

A spokesperson at Wesleyan Assurance Society, which provides specialist financial advice and services to teachers and medical professionals, urged the government to investigate “as a priority” in light of the ruling.

The National Education Union told Schools Week it would raise the issue with the DfE “whenever we can”, but claimed there were clear financial barriers to a change in the rules.

“I think even the government would acknowledge that this is unfair, but the cost of redressing the imbalance would be huge,” a spokesperson said.

“When you consider the economic climate we are in, I can’t imagine for one moment that the government is going to have the funding available to make this alright.”

Jeff Houston, head of pensions at the Local Government Association, said the case was pushing matters in the right direction, but that it is unlikely changes would be made for teachers alone.

“I can’t see the Treasury saying yes we’ll change the rules in the teachers’ scheme but leave them as they are for the health service or the armed forces,” he said.