Civil partners, like married couples, can inherit each other’s pension rights, but unmarried couples cannot. This perceived discrimination against opposite-sex cohabiting couples is being addressed in a Bill currently before Parliament which seeks to allow such couples to register as civil partnerships.
The major effect would relate to rights under occupational and public sector pension schemes which can only be passed to surviving widows or widowers who were married or in civil partnerships. The Bill would extend these rights to unmarried opposite-sex couples.
The number of unmarried couples has roughly doubled over the past 20 years from around 1.7 million in 1997 to 3.3 million in 2017, and millions of people are expected to benefit from the proposed new law.
The change would also benefit those who reached pension age before 6 April 2016 and were not entitled to the improved State pension benefits available to surviving marriage and civil partners under the State pension scheme prior to that date.