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Widows left to weep for their cash

Teachers who remarry when they retire may be shocked at how little of their pension their wives receive. Martyn Cornell reports.

Government fears of "death-bed marriages" by retired teachers are being blamed for a pension rule that penalises second wives.

Retired primary school headteacher Geoffrey Kitchen, 72, only became aware of the rule when he contacted the Teachers' Pensions Agency to check what his new wife, Linda, 46, would be entitled to on his death.

Mr Kitchen's first wife died in 1992, after 48 years of marriage, and he married Linda in 1994. Had his first wife survived him, she would have been entitled to three months of his full pension and a half-sum pension from then on. But his second wife, because the marriage took place after his retirement, will be entitled to practically nothing.

And while unions are pressing for this inequity to be rectified in the Pensions Bill currently passing through Parliament, the TPA is refusing to contemplate any rule change.

Up until 1978 state pension rules also discriminated against widows who had remarried after their husband's retirement. When that rule was changed the teachers' pensions scheme, like all other public-sector schemes, also relaxed its regulations. But as the changes were not made retrospective only the deceased's teaching service after April 5, 1978, counts towards the pension rights of a surviving spouse.

Mr Kitchen, who lives in Dedham, Essex, took voluntary retirement in 1981, which means his second wife will get a half-pension based on just three years' payments. This will amount to just Pounds 89.35 a year, instead of the Pounds 3,300 she would have got had the 1978 rule been made retrospective.

To make the situation even more galling, in 1966 Mr Kitchen elected to pay 3 per cent of his salary on top of the compulsory 6 per cent superannuation levy to provide for his wife should she be left a widow. He also made more payments to cover all his service right back to 1946, when he started as a teacher, so that his widow would have the maximum pension.

Mr Kitchen said: "A widow is a widow, and there can be only one. Because of this rule about second marriages, no widow is going to benefit from all the money I voluntarily paid - so what have I contributed towards? It is totally unjust."

When he discovered from the TPA how little of his pension his second wife would get, Mr Kitchen wrote to the Occupational Pensions Advisory Service, which told him that similar grievances with other public-service pension schemes had gone as far as the European Court without success.

National Union of Teachers' officials who Mr Kitchen contacted told him that the Government had always resisted attempts to remove the restriction on widows on second marriages, arguing that it would be open to abuse with "death-bed marriages". Mr Kitchen said: "It's a ridiculous idea, and hardly appropriate in my case - my marriage has been in existence since February 1994, and, I trust, will continue for some time yet.

"I have a colleague in Suffolk who retired in 1971 and is now in his 80s, as is his second wife, whom he married after his first wife died in 1984. They were horrified when I told them that she would be entitled to nothing from his teacher's pension of more than Pounds 7,000 a year if he died first."

Barry Fawcett, assistant secretary for salaries and pensions at the NUT, said that there were "very few" people in Mr and Mrs Kitchen's position, and the cost to the Government in putting the situation right would be negligible.

He said: "It's a daft situation, and one we are seeking to rectify - it applies right across the public sector. Negotiations open again later this year between the unions and the Government on this and other pension matters, and we will have to look at political pressure if negotiating pressures don't work.

"People going in for death-bed marriages just to get the right to a widow's pension is clearly theoretically possible, but it pales in comparison to the injustice done to people like Mr and Mrs Kitchen, and I've no doubt that another way can be found to deal with that sort of situation."

However, the TPA said that it was "not intending" to make the 1978 change to widows' pension rights retrospective, "because retrospection would be too costly".

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