I lived with my partner since 1997 and we got a mortgage together in 1998. We got engaged in 2000, may have been 1999, but never got round to getting married as we couldn’t agree on the wedding we wanted.
In February, a good friend died suddenly so we decided we’d get married this year, after my son and his fiancee who were getting married in June in America.
Of course, Covid 19 happened so all was put on hold and my partner died very unexpectedly in April.
Retirement finances: I never married my late partner, so do I have any right to his pensions? (Stock image)
I’m not entitled to any of his Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence or private company pensions because we weren’t married.
Is his state pension the same? I’m in receipt of my state pension but my partner would have only been 64 this year so not getting his yet.
I think I know the answer, but thought I would ask.
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Steve Webb replies: Thank you for your question. I was very sorry to read about your recent bereavement.
Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below
Pension provision for couples who are living together but not married or in a civil partnership has been changing in recent years in recognition of the growing number of couples living together outside marriage.
The rules are however different for different sorts of pension and can vary from scheme to scheme.
For the state pension, the situation is unfortunately very simple. Unless you are married or in a civil partnership you have no claim on the contributions of your partner.
There have been various recent court cases where this principle has been challenged (in these cases with regard to working age bereavement benefits) and the government has been defeated.
But so far, no change to the rules has been made and any change would probably not apply to those who have already been bereaved.
With regard to occupational pensions, the position is more complex and can vary from scheme to scheme.
Traditionally, occupational pensions would have provided for a surviving widow but not for a cohabiting partner.
Gradually, over time, workplace pensions have changed their rules to reflect changes in society. It is now more common for a company pension to make a payment to a surviving partner.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
However, in some cases there are date cut-offs which mean that entitlement only applies for service after a particular date or for bereavements after a certain date.
In the case of the armed forces, the ‘armed forces compensation scheme’ offers unmarried partners of military personnel a bereavement grant and an income for life provided that they meet the qualifying rules.
However, this is only in respect of service after 2005 so I do not know if this would apply to your late partner. You can find out more about the scheme here.
One of the challenges which pension schemes face with regard to cohabiting couples is forming a judgment as to the nature of the relationship, as they may not want to pay out to someone who was not in an established relationship.
For someone such as yourself who was engaged to be married, who had a joint mortgage and who had been part of a couple for more than two decades, there can be little doubt about the situation.
But some pension schemes will have rules which mean that cohabiting partners are required to satisfy some tests (such as a minimum length of cohabitation) before a survivor’s pension is payable.
I’m assuming that the pensions of your late partner were all traditional salary-related or ‘defined benefit’ pensions where your rights depend on the rules of the individual scheme.
However, where the person who has died built up a ‘defined contribution’ or pot of money pension, the situation would be different.
In this case, the person with the pension can nominate someone to inherit the balance of their pension pot if they were to die, and there is no reason why they should not be able to nominate a cohabiting partner.
Ask Steve Webb a pension question
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.
He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.
Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.
If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.
Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.
If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.
Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.