Following the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in December 2005, registered same-sex partners now have the same pension rights as married couples.
As for widowers, civil partners can access survivor pensions in public service schemes and contracted-out pension schemes from 1988. For further details, contact the Pension Service: www.thepensionservice.gov.uk.
Previously, the failure of many pension schemes, particularly in the public sector, to provide benefits for same-sex partners was discriminatory and caused real financial hardship.
In 1999 Stonewall negotiated a new definition of 'interdependence' with the Inland Revenue:
"...unmarried partner, whether of the same or opposite sex, can qualify for a survivors' pension only if he or she were financially dependent on the employee or ex spouse. Financial interdependence of the employee or ex spouse and his or her partner would be an acceptable criterion, e.g. where the partner relied on a second income to maintain a standard of living which had dependent on joint income prior to the employee's or ex spouse's death."
This meant that pension schemes were able to pay survivors' benefits to an unmarried partner whether of the same or opposite sex where there has been a relationship of financial interdependence.
As a result of this change many pension schemes in the private sector altered their policies to provide pensions for same-sex partners. In 2001 MPs voted to change their own pension scheme to recognise same-sex partners.
In July 2002 PCS, the civil service union, negotiated a new scheme for all civil servants that provides benefits for same-sex partners.
The Government had no objection in principle to changing pension schemes, as long as they were funded at no additional cost to the Treasury. PCS estimated the cost of providing benefits for unmarried partners as 0.5% of payroll. A lot depended on actuarial assumptions. Calculations were often based on the assumption that the majority of members will marry. As in fact less people marry and more people cohabit it was argued that any additional cost could be met by these 'saved' monies.
Civil partners are treated in the same way as spouses for tax purposes. These changes were dealt with in the Finance Act following the Budget of 16th March 2005. The HM Revenue and Customs department can answer specific queries about taxation law: www.hmrc.gov.uk. They also have produced a booklet for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on taxes and benefits issues, which you can download here.
If you form a civil partnership you are treated jointly for income-related benefits - people should be aware that this also applies to same-sex couples who are living together, but who have not registered their partnership (as with cohabiting heterosexual couples). For further information on how this may affect you, you should contact Jobcentre Plus: www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk.