Court of Appeal victory for woman to receive benefit of late partner’s military pension

It has recently been reported that a woman has won the right to receive her late partner’s military pension after an eight year legal battle.

Ms Jane Langford had been in a relationship with her partner, Air Commodore Christopher Green, for 15 years when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2011.

The Armed Forces Pension Scheme provides dependents of service members with a guaranteed income until death and a bereavement grant. Bereaved unmarried partners of officers qualify as dependents under this scheme.

However, Ms Langford was initially denied the benefits of the scheme because she was not divorced from her estranged husband. Her claim to receive Air Commodore Green’s pension failed on the grounds that she was not in an exclusive relationship with him despite being estranged from her husband for 17 years.

Ms Langford contested the decision of the Armed Forces.  In 2015, the High Court dismissed her claim on the grounds that if a surviving partner of a service member was married to someone else, they could “in the majority of cases” seek financial support from their estranged spouse. Ms Langford did not receive any financial support from her estranged husband.

On 17th July 2019, the Court of Appeal unanimously overruled the decision of the High Court. They found the Armed Forces rule to be “unlawful and cannot be justified or proportionate in Mrs Langford’s case”. The refusal to allow Ms Langford to access the pension scheme was in breach of her human rights.

Lord Justice McCombe said the “broad exclusionary rule” barring married partners from receiving such compensation was “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

The Ministry of Defence claimed that their rule was necessary to limit the status of unmarred partners to ensure that the pension scheme remained affordable.

Lord Justice McCombe added, “I would accept that it is a legitimate aim of the scheme to achieve parity of treatment between married and unmarried partners of scheme members.”

“But such parity is in reality achieved not by imposing restrictions based on a partner’s marital status, but by requiring the demonstration of a substantial, exclusive and financially dependent relationship in practice.”

The result of the ruling allows Ms Langford to claim for back payments of her late partner’s pensions scheme. This extends to any bereaved partner who has previously been refused entitlement to a pension scheme because they had not formally dissolved their existing marriage.

This is a landmark ruling for unmarried couples, not only for bereaved surviving partners whose partner served in the Armed Forces but for other public sector schemes. This will have a monumental impact on the public sector and suggests the need for modern relationships to be reflected on

Written by Sarah Morgan, Solicitor at Hugh James
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