The ever-developing law for cohabiting partners took another step forward after a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court allowed an unmarried woman’s appeal to receive a survivor’s pension from her deceased partner’s public sector pension scheme.
In Re Brewster for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland)  UKSC 8
, the appellant, Ms Denies Brewster, resided with her partner Mr William Leonard McMullan at their jointly owned home in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, for some 10 years. The couple became engaged on Christmas Eve 2009 and tragically, only 2 days later, Mr McMullan died unexpectedly at the age of 43. Mr McMullan had no children and died intestate.
For 15 years prior to his death, Mr McMullan was employed by Translink, Northern Ireland’s public transport service. During his employment with Translink, Mr McMullan paid in to his Local Government Pension Scheme, administered by the statutory body NILGOSC. The pension scheme was administered pursuant to the Local Government Pension Scheme (Benefits, Membership and Contributions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 (the 2009 Regulations). The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (DENI) is responsible for the 2009 Regulations.
In April 2009, on foot of the 2009 Regulations, a cohabiting surviving partner became eligible for payment of a survivor’s public sector pension on the understanding the surviving partner met the definition of cohabiting partner and only when the cohabiting partner had been specifically nominated by the pension scheme member. Ms Brewster believed Mr McMullan completed the necessary nomination; however, NILGOSC refuted ever having received said nomination. Therefore, on foot of regulation 25 of the 2009 Regulations, NILGOSC refused to pay to Ms Brewster a survivor’s pension. Ms Brewster’s appeal before the Supreme Court proceeded on the basis that the relevant nomination was not made.
The 2009 Regulations do not stipulate a requirement for nomination of surviving spouses or civil partners. Ms Brewster’s application for judicial review argued that the absolute requirement of nomination imposed only on cohabiting partners in order to qualify for a survivor’s pension constituted unlawful discrimination contrary to article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) when read in conjunction with Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1) to ECHR.