Exclusive: Teacher pensions discriminating against men

Unions say the fact that male spouses of female teachers are entitled to less money from their pensions is 'unacceptable'

Catherine Lough


The widowers of female teachers are discriminated against when it comes to their pension entitlements, Tes can reveal.

According to the administrators of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the male spouses of female teachers are entitled to income based only on years of service from 1988, with service prior to that discounted.

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However, for the spouses or partners of male teachers, entitlements date back to 1 April 1972. This applies to widows of male teachers, and, following a campaign from the NASUWT teaching union, has applied to teachers’ same-sex partners, whether male or female, since 2019.

For the male partners of female teachers, there is a 16-year difference in terms of their entitlements, which unions have described as “discriminatory”.

Helen Gallagher, who retired as a teacher in 1997 after 29 years of service, said the discrepancy amounted to “total sexual discrimination”.

“I cannot understand how the teaching unions, the equalities commission and the government have allowed this to happen,” she said.

 “I am sure that there are very few female teachers in a heterosexual marriage or partnership aware of this gross inequality.

"I was stunned to learn this when I enquired about my husband's entitlement regarding my pension.

"It seems even more anomalous and discriminatory when one considers that women in a same-sex marriage or partnership have entitlement from 1972 – as they, and all of us, should."

A spokesperson for the NASUWT said: “The discriminatory provision of adult survivor benefits has always been unacceptable to the NASUWT, and the union continues to campaign for this discrimination to be ended, so that survivor pensions passed on by women teachers to their surviving husbands are based on any pension accrual from 1972 onwards.

“The NASUWT welcomed the decision taken by the government to equalise survivor benefits for teachers’ same-sex partners, as this followed a lengthy NASUWT campaign, but continues to condemn the failure to extend this equalisation to widowers from heterosexual marriages.

“The NASUWT will continue to campaign for widowers from heterosexual marriages to enjoy equal survivor benefits to widows and for payments made by women teachers to purchase additional pension for their husband’s benefits’ to be reimbursed.”

The union said that the government’s formal provision was that providing full equality to widowers from heterosexual marriages to female teachers was “still a matter under review”, adding that it encouraged its members to contact their MPs with a view to changing the regulations of the UK Teachers’ Pension Schemes.

The government has said it will not "make any further retrospective changes" and says it is abiding by a European Court of Justice judgment that requires pension schemes to provide equal survivor benefits for men who survive their female spouse in relation to service from May 1990. 

Asked why the Department for Education has not gone further by fully equalising survivor benefits for widowers, it has said: "The government’s position remains that benefit entitlements should generally be determined in light of the rules applicable at the time the member served.

"To do otherwise would make defined benefit pension schemes unmanageable and unaffordable, and would mean that subsequent generations pick up the costs of improving benefits beyond those envisaged at the time.

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