GAY rights campaigners have called on the UK government to change the law to ensure same-sex couples in Scotland get the same pension rights as straight couples.
The Equality Network, the Scottish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) charity, is concerned that homosexual couples will continue to lose out on pensions despite moves to introduce same-sex marriage on both sides of the Border.
As the law stands, a bereaved partner in a same-sex relationship can get less from an occupational pension scheme than a bereaved wife or husband in the same scheme.
This is because there is an exemption for private occupational pensions in the Equality Act, which was passed at Westminster in 2010.
The exemption means it is possible for private pension firms only to provide survivor benefits to those in a civil partnership on pension contributions built up since December 2005 when civil partnerships became law. Since then, the exemption has been extended so that it will apply to same-sex married couples in the same way that it applies to civil partners.
As pensions is a matter reserved to Westminster, these laws apply in Scotland and cannot be controlled by the Scottish Parliament. So although the Scottish Government has introduced its own same-sex marriage law, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, it is unable to legislate to equalise pension rights.
Scottish gay activists made their plea shortly before the Westminster same-sex marriage legislation has its third reading debate in the House of Lords tomorrow.
Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said: “Married same-sex couples should be entitled to exactly the same pension rights as everyone else. We are sure the Scottish Parliament will want to see this discrimination end, but MSPs are currently powerless to do anything about it.
“That is why we are calling on the UK government to change the law and give LGBT people in Scotland the full equality they deserve.”
Last week at its report stage in the Lords, an amendment was tabled by Lord Alli to the UK Marriage (Same Sex Couples Bill) that would have ensured pension equality for same-sex couples. The amendment would have required occupational schemes to treat same-sex marriages equally with heterosexual marriages.
The UK government, however, opposed the amendment. UK ministers did promise to discuss it further, stating their intention to amend the bill this week so that the issue could be reviewed.
In Scotland, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill has been introduced in Holyrood and the equal opportunities committee has issued a call for written evidence to be submitted before the Scottish Parliament reconvenes in September.
Last night, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said that action would be taken to make sure there is equality for gay couples when it comes to pensions that are under Scottish control.
Currently, Holyrood does some have devolved responsibility for some public sector pension schemes in Scotland for the NHS, fire service, police service, local government and teachers.
The spokeswoman said: “Pension policy is generally a reserved matter. For public sector pension schemes where the Scottish Government has devolved responsibilities, our intention is to treat same-sex spouses in the same way as civil partners.”
Yesterday, the UK government kept its promise to Waheed Alli by publishing a pensions amendment to the UK legislation, which will set up a review of the differences in occupational pension scheme survivor benefits for same-sex couples.
The results of the review are to be published by 1 July next year. If the review concludes that the law should be changed, then, under the provisions of the amendment, that change can be made for England, Wales and Scotland, by the UK government.