Recent statistics from the National Association of Pension Funds show public pension schemes are far more reluctant to give pensions to common-law partners than private schemes. Eighty per cent of public schemes say they will not provide benefits for such partners "under any circumstances", compared with only 16 per cent of private schemes. The majority of private schemes will grant pensions to common-law partners at the discretion of trustees.
Actuaries dealing with pension schemes say one of the main difficulties of granting pensions to common-law partners is the Inland Revenue's insistence that benefits can only be paid to partners when financial inter-dependence can be proved - a joint mortgage, for instance.
While an increasing number of private schemes are recognising the rights of common law partners of the opposite sex, only a tiny minority have granted pensions to same-sex partners. The campaign for equal rights for gays received a serious setback recently when the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled against a lesbian railway-worker claiming travel concessions for her partner. The European Court said South West Trains did not breach equality laws in refusing Lisa Grant a travel pass for her partner, Jill Percey.
A victory would have had huge implications for Britain's pensions systems, but it now seems unlikely that the pension rights of same-sex partners will be recognised unless the Government legislates to outlaw discrimination against gays.