Equal rights for cohabitation

by Denise Brewster

Equal rights for cohabitation

by Denise Brewster
Funded
on 16th October 2015
£4,060
pledged of £5,820 stretch target from 122 pledges
Denise Brewster
Case Owner
My name is Denise Brewster. I live in Coleraine. In 2009, my partner of 15 years died suddenly. We were engaged and lived together but I was not entitled to his pension. At times the magnitude and the unfairness of it all can be very overwhelming, but I always try to look at a positive in any negative, so maybe through all this process it has inadvertently has helped a lot of other people.

Latest: March 27, 2017

We WON!!!!!

We WON!!!!!

This has been an extremely difficult journey, but one that I had to take.  At first I was fighting for Lenny and myself but as time went on I realized I was also fighting for all th...

Read more
16 September: THANK YOU! I hit my first target just one day before the deadline! I am extending the deadline by a few days just in case anyone would like to help me reach my stretch target. I am so grateful for those who have supported me.
22 September: UPDATE - BBC Radio interviewed me about my case - starting at 1:13:13 in the linked recording!

Who I am and why I'm fighting all the way to the Supreme Court

My name is Denise Brewster. I live in Coleraine.

I was with my partner Lenny McMullan for 15 years. We lived together for 10 years and owned our home together. We got engaged on Christmas Eve 2009. Lenny died suddenly between Christmas night and the early hours of Boxing Day morning 2009.




I'm 41 years old. Had I been married to Lenny I would have benefited from his payments into his occupational pension through a survivor’s pension. However, I wasn't married to Lenny, and because cohabiting partners have to fill out an additional form that they said we didn't fill out, I am disqualified from receiving a survivor’s pension – even though I met all the other criteria. Instead, all the money we paid into the scheme just goes back into the scheme's system. Neither I nor anyone belonging to Lenny receives it.



My case is simple: bureaucratic rules like this which discriminate against long-term cohabitees should not be permitted. The High Court in Northern Ireland agreed with me. However, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to look at the issues again – assuming I can raise the funds to carry on with the case. A positive decision from the Supreme Court is likely to impact on discrimination against cohabitees across a wide range of areas, not just pension rights.

Should cohabiting long-term partners have the same rights as married couples?

At the time of his death Lenny had been working for Translink (the company which delivers Northern Ireland’s public transport services) for 15 years. Throughout that time both Lenny and I paid into Northern Ireland’s local government pension scheme.

  • In April 2009, co-habiting partners became eligible for a survivor’s pension under the pension scheme for the first time. Similar changes were also made to the local government pension schemes in England, Wales and Scotland. However, in all these schemes (as well as in many other pension schemes) the entitlement of long-term cohabitees to a survivor’s pension was made subject to the completion of a nomination form – a form filling requirement that does not apply to married couples and which many people overlook.

  • For example, in the booklet for the Northern Ireland scheme the importance of the nomination form was only mentioned in one sentence. As a result, I was told that although the scheme had around 50,000 contributing members only 49 of these had submitted nomination forms. Given that across the UK 47 % of the UK population choose to long-term co-habitat, it seems that large numbers of long-term cohabitees risk falling foul of these rules.

  • Even if a nomination form has been completed co-habitees still need to demonstrate that they were in a stable long-term relationship with their deceased partner. So in reality the form is just an additional unnecessary bureaucratic requirement – one which unfairly penalises the families of cohabitees who miss out the financial support their loved ones assumed they would receive on their death.

Judge Treacy said in my first case, in his closing comments:

One thing is however clear and that it made no sense for the deceased to 'wish' disentitlement upon the women to whom he was engaged. It is irrational and disproportionate to impose a disqualifying hurdle of this kind on the applicant who was indisputably in a qualifying relationship in that it fulfilled the substantive conditions [of the NILGOSC scheme].

In this case the means defeated the aim."



The legal case

The Supreme Court has already granted me permission to appeal. If I can raise funds to carry on with the case the appeal hearing is likely to take place in Spring 2016.

What I'm trying to achieve – and how it affects others who co-habit

I don’t want another partner to go through what I have gone through. It is hard enough trying to come to terms with such a loss, without the additional financial and emotional burden. I don’t want other families to be denied what their partners would have wanted them to have.



I’m trying to ensure that the nomination form requirement is removed because of its discriminatory effect. If the Supreme Court agrees with me then this is likely to result in the removal of the nomination form requirement not only from the Northern Ireland local government pension scheme but also from other schemes across the UK.

In addition, my lawyers have explained that a positive Supreme Court decision will have a broader impact on co-habitee rights – clarifying when the courts should intervene to ensure a level playing field between long-term cohabitees and those who are married or in civil partnerships.

How much am I raising and what it is for



I have found specialist discrimination lawyers (Deighton Pierce Glynn) who are willing to represent me in the Supreme Court without charging me because of the wider importance of my case.

However, I still have to pay for the Supreme Court fees - £5,820. In addition, I will be liable for £5,000 of my opponent’s legal costs if the case fails.

So I need a fund of £10,820 to carry on with the case – and whilst I have been able to raise some of the money needed I cannot continue with the case without additional financial support. I would be grateful to raise at least £4,000 to help me with these costs.


About the claimant

My name is Denise Brewster. I live in Coleraine. In 2009, my partner of 15 years died suddenly. We were engaged and lived together but I was not entitled to his pension. At times the magnitude and the unfairness of it all can be very overwhelming, but I always try to look at a positive in any negative, so maybe through all this process it has inadvertently has helped a lot of other people.

Fast facts

Name of case Denise Brewster v Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC)

What's at stake A change in the law to make cohabiting partners have equal rights to married couples when it comes to receipt of the other's occupational pension.

Next step in the case It will be heard before the Supreme Court later this year, but the legal work needs to be done now!

Read more about my case The BBC covered my case before the High Court, in 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20271150

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Update 1

Denise Brewster

March 27, 2017

We WON!!!!!

We WON!!!!!

This has been an extremely difficult journey, but one that I had to take.  At first I was fighting for Lenny and myself but as time went on I realized I was also fighting for all those other families that have been victims of total discrimination with this flawed Spouse/Pension Scheme.

I am truly grateful to my legal teams in London Deighton Pierce and Glynn Solicitors and Helen Mountfield QC, also my legal team in Northern Ireland Callum/O'Kane Solicitors, Coleraine and David Scoffield QC.

I would like to thank CrowdJustice, my family, friends, work colleagues and everyone who has helped and supported in anyway with my campaign to raise funds and awareness for the equality issues that this case has raised.

Collectively we all came together...and can you believe it?

WE DID IT!!! Yes we did it.

God Bless to you all and thanks again. XO

Thanks

Denise

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