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30 September 2015 0 Comments
Posted in Opinion

Question of protection for cohabitees is back in the spotlight

Author headshot image Posted by , Partner

A legal battle involving a Northern Irish woman, whose long-term partner died suddenly almost six years ago, has led to fresh calls for greater protection for cohabitees.

Denise Brewster, from Coleraine, County Londonderry, had been living with Lenny McMullan for a decade prior to his unexpected death in December 2009.

The couple had got engaged on Christmas Eve, but only two days later Mr McMullan died without warning in the early hours of Boxing Day.

At the time of his death, the deceased had been paying into a local government pension scheme for around 15 years. Had the couple been married, Ms Brewster would have received a £400 per month survivors’ pension.

However, because the pair had failed to complete the nomination form required by cohabiting couples she will not be entitled to the money from her fiancé’s scheme.

Events inspired Ms Brewster to start a campaign alongside Nicola Elmes, from Essex, who had found herself in a similar position after the sudden death of her own partner in 2011.

The UK Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, recognising that there are a number of legal points which could have important implications for many couples.

Ms Brewster told her local newspaper, the Coleraine Times, that the rules needed to be changed.

“The extra hurdle of the nomination form applies only to cohabitees and serves no purpose other than to act as a trap for the unwary. People in long-term cohabiting relationships should not be discriminated against in this way.

“I feel so strongly that what has happened is not fair: no one disputes that Lenny would have wanted me to benefit from his pension contributions in the event of his death, but because he apparently failed to complete this form I have to try to manage without this support.”

Resolution, an association of family lawyers, has repeatedly made the case for a change in legislation which would give greater rights to cohabiting couples.

To find out more about the family services we provide, please contact Patrick Hart.

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