In Langford v Secretary of State for Defence 2019 EWCA Civ 1271 the Court of Appeal ruled that a cohabitant could claim her partner’s RAF pension death benefits despite being married to someone else.
Air Commodore Christopher Green and Jane Langford had been living together for 15 year when he suddenly passed away in 2011.
- He was a member of the Armed Forces Pension scheme. The scheme, like many civil service schemes, provides death benefits for surviving partners but not if they are married to someone else.
- Despite being estranged for over 17 years Mrs Langford and her husband had never divorced though she had looked into it with a view to marrying Mr Green.
- The MOD refused her claim for pension death benefits.
- She appealed on the grounds of discrimination due to her marital status but the first tier and upper tribunals both dismissed the appeal.
The Court of Appeal overturned the decisions of the lesser courts, taking a different interpretation of the purpose of the scheme rules which require that the prospective beneficiary and the deceased must have been 'cohabiting as partners in a substantial and exclusive relationship' where 'exclusive' means that neither of them is married to someone else.
Whilst the aim of the scheme, said the court is to achieve equal treatment between married and unmarried couples, and to prevent double recovery from civil service schemes, this is not always to be achieved by placing restrictions based on marital status, and in this case to do so would be unproportionate and unjustified. What is more important is showing that the parties had a substantial, exclusive and financially dependent relationship and here they did.
Since many other civil service pension schemes have similar restrictions to the Armed forces scheme this could be an important decision for other surviving partners of scheme members who find themselves in the not entirely uncommon situation of still being married to someone else.
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