Teachers' families left impoverished

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Susannah Kirkman reports on the profession's 'unfair' pensions scheme

The Families of teachers who have died are living in poverty as a result of the shortcomings of the profession's pension scheme.

Serving teachers often believe, mistakenly, that their partner will receive 50 per cent of their pension if they die - the amount offered by many superannuation schemes.

But the teachers' pension scheme is not so generous. Husbands are particularly hard-hit. Widowers of teachers who die this year could be entitled to only one-tenth of their wives' pensions.

The maximum a wife could get is around a third of her teacher husband's pension.

Some teachers' families are also missing out on death grants worth thousands of pounds. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers says that many teachers are unaware that if they leave the profession before retirement age and die before claiming a pension their estate is eligible for a death grant - paid by Teachers' Pensions, the company that administers the profession's superannuation scheme.

Teaching unions say the plight of widows and widowers is putting their benevolent funds under increasing pressure.

Susan Johnson, head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We are dealing with many cases of men whose wives have died of cancer in their forties, leaving them with young children. We can't understand how it can be justifiable to discriminate between male and female survivors. These days, the wife's income is as important as the husband's."

Pension scheme rules say that a wife's pension depends on the number of years her husband has served since 1972. However, for a widower, only his wife's years of service from 1988 count.

According to these rules, it will be 2018 before teachers' widowers gain parity with teachers' widows.

Similar pension regulations were unsuccessfully challenged in the European Court in 1990, when the court ruled that the discrimination was legal in respect of service before May 1990.

In 1988, women teachers had the opportunity to boost widowers' pensions but few did so. "They felt it was unfair that they should have to pay extra for something which male teachers were getting for free," said Marion Bird of the ATL.

Women whose husbands' service straddled the introduction of universal widows' benefits in 1972 are also feeling the pinch, unless their husbands opted to make extra contributions to the old teachers' family benefits scheme.

Yorkshire widow Patricia Dulling, whose husband died in January, found she was only entitled to a quarter of his pension. The financial pressures of raising two children on a teacher's salary meant that her husband had decided not to contribute to the family benefits scheme.

Widows and widowers with dependent children do receive extra pension and a larger death benefit, but not enough to make up for the loss of one regular salary.

Several widows and widowers being helped by the Teachers' Benevolent Fund are only entitled to the basic state retirement pension of pound;62.45 a week.

Leader, page 16

Full details of teachers' widows and widowers' pensions will be given on the Personal Finance page of Friday magazine next week

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