Understanding the death benefit rules for non-legal partners

Although the Scottish Teachers Superannuation Scheme (STSS) and the Scottish Teachers’ Pension Scheme (STPS) automatically provide death benefits for married couples and civil partners, the regulations for non-legal partners are a little more complex.

If you were an active member on or after 1 April 2007, your non-legal partner may qualify for benefits in certain circumstances. If you were an active member before this date, you may have an option to pay extra contributions to cover service before that date - see the details below for an explanation of this and other frequently asked questions that will help you to ensure your partner receives the benefits they’re entitled to from your pension scheme.

Does your partner meet the scheme’s death benefit requirements?

The main requirements for your non-legal partner to qualify for death benefits are:

  • you must hold at least 2 years’ qualifying service (qualifying service is normally the calendar length of service rather than actual days worked for part-time staff and may also take in to account previous service transferred in to the scheme)
  • you and your partner would have to be living together at the time of your death in an exclusive, committed and long-term relationship for a continuous period of at least two years
  • your partner would have to be financially dependent on you or the two of you need to be financially interdependent
  • you and your partner both have to be legally entitled to marry or join a civil partnership with each other.

What is meant by an ‘exclusive, committed, long-term’ relationship?

For the purposes of a partner pension, SPPA must be satisfied that you’re living together in a long term relationship with each other, which you both intend to continue indefinitely. If you have a similar relationship with more than one person, none of them would be entitled to a pension.

‘Long-term’ in this context means ‘at least two years’. Following your death, SPPA will consider your case individually and take account of anything that supports the claim that you and your partner had a permanent relationship which would otherwise have continued.

What is financial dependence and interdependence?

Under HM Revenue and Custom’s rules governing occupational pension schemes, your partner must be financially dependent on you or the two of you must be financially interdependent. Your partner is ‘financially dependent’ on you if you provide all or most of the income on which you both live.

‘Financially interdependent’ means you rely on your joint finances to support your standard of living. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be contributing equally. For example, if your partner’s income is a lot more than yours, he or she might pay the mortgage and most of the bills, and you might pay for the weekly shopping.  

What is meant by ‘free to marry or form a civil partnership’

There must be nothing which could prevent you from marrying or forming a civil partnership with your partner. Neither of you can be married to or have a civil partnership with anyone else. You must not bear a relationship to each other which would prevent marriage or civil partnership.

What happens if you’re waiting for a divorce or dissolution to come through?

If you’re married or have a civil partner, SPPA will pay a pension to your surviving wife, husband, or civil partner, even if you no longer live with them. If you want your partner to receive a pension, you must both be legally free to marry or form a civil partnership with each other.

Do I have to own a house or flat with my partner?

The rules state that you must be living together. Most people in a permanent relationship either own or rent property together. If you both maintain separate households and don’t share each other’s living expenses, your partner would not qualify.

If your circumstances force you to spend your final years away from home, in residential nursing care, for example, SPPA will take account of your situation when you were living at home as well as at the time of your death.

How do I nominate a partner?

Though it's not a legal requirement, members may nominate a partner at any point prior to death by submitting a completed Non-Legal Partner Nomination Form to SPPA. Submitting a nomination does not guarantee that a partner’s pension will be paid but it will act as additional evidence to support their claim in the event of your death.

If you’d like to make the payment of any lump sum on death to someone other than your partner, or split the lump sum payment between two or more people, then you should also complete a Lump Sum On Death Nomination Form. If you choose to pay any lump sum benefit to a person other than your partner, your partner’s pension would not be affected.

What if we split up?

If you’ve submitted a nomination form and your relationship comes to an end, it’s essential that you tell SPPA in writing as soon as possible so we can record your wish to cancel your nomination. If you enter into a new permanent relationship you may wish to make a new nomination at some time in the future.

Should I make a will?

If you want to leave anything to your partner, quite apart from your pension, you should consider making a will. If you die without a will (which is known as ‘intestate’), your property will not automatically go to your partner.

You can draw up a will without using a solicitor but you should consider getting legal advice, particularly if your financial affairs are complicated.

Naming your partner as a beneficiary in a will is one of the factors that may be taken into account by SPPA in considering whether the relevant conditions are met.

What if I don’t want my employer to know about my relationship?

Nomination forms should be sent directly to SPPA, who act on behalf of your employer. All pensions documentation and casework is handled in the strictest confidence and in line with data protection legislation. Any nomination will be handled with appropriate confidentiality. 

Why don’t married couples or civil partners have to go through the same process?

Marriage and civil partnership automatically give people certain legal rights and responsibilities, including certain rights over each other’s property. If people decide not to marry or form a civil partnership, SPPA needs to be satisfied that the relationship meets the conditions laid down in the legislation in order for a pension to be paid to an unmarried partner.

What does my partner need to do in the event of my death?

Your partner needs to be aware that, after your death, they’ll have to provide information to SPPA in writing to support their claim to a partner’s pension. Your partner must satisfy SPPA that, at the time of your death, you lived together in an exclusive, committed and long-term relationship with each other and that all the other requirements are met.

What’s the claim procedure?

When SPPA becomes aware of your death, your partner will need to fill in a claim form and provide documentation to support their claim to a partner’s pension. If there’s a nomination on file, SPPA will contact your partner directly in the event of your death. If there’s no nomination on file, it will be your partner’s responsibility to contact SPPA and request the relevant form.

Your partner will be asked to supply information that’s appropriate at the time of your death rather than at the date of declaration. This information changes from time and they’ll be advised of any requirements at the time.

What sort of information might support my partner’s claim?

SPPA will need to be satisfied that you, your partner and your relationship meet the conditions that are set out in the STSS/STPS Regulations. We’ll ask your partner to confirm their identity. We’ll also ask them to confirm that neither of you were married or in a civil partnership and that there was nothing to prevent you from marrying each other or forming a civil partnership.

SPPA will ask your partner to provide information about your relationship and to confirm that you were financially dependent or interdependent. Where appropriate, your partner will have to provide supporting documents to confirm the information given in their claim. The information will enable SPPA to decide whether your relationship meets the conditions.

There are various possible forms of supporting information and, because everyone is different, it’s not possible to provide a definitive list. However, examples of supporting information include:

  • confirmation that you lived in a shared household
  • confirmation of shared household spending
  • information about children you brought up together
  • a mutual power of attorney
  • a joint mortgage or tenancy
  • a joint bank account
  • joint savings accounts or investments
  • wills naming each other as the main beneficiary
  • your partner being nominated as the main beneficiary of life insurance
  • your death leading to extra living expenses for your partner.

These are just examples and each case will be considered individually. You and your partner may wish to consider what sort of information they would be able to provide in support of a claim.

Can my partner appeal if they are turned down for a pension?

If your partner thinks they’ve been turned down without a good reason, they may try to resolve the issue using the SPPA’s Internal Dispute Resolution Procedure. Alternatively, they may pursue the matter through the Sheriff Court. More information about appeals in general is available here.

How much will my partner’s pension be?

Short-term initial rate pensions may be payable for the first 3 months if you are still in pensionable service or are in receipt of your pension at the time of death.

Once the short-term pension stops (if applicable) a long-term pension will go into payment for life. The long term pension payable to a partner differs depending on which section or scheme you are a member of as well as your status in the scheme on the date of death.

If you have benefits in more than one scheme then your partners entitlement will be calculated and paid separately from each scheme.

Death in service

NPA 60 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

NPA 65 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

2015 Scheme: Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated as 37.5% of members acrrued pension plus enhancement of 50% of the prospective period from the day after death to normal pension age and mutliplying this by 1/57th of the final full time equivalent pensionable earnings.

Death in retirement

NPA 60 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated as 50% of your pension (taking account of service from 1 April 2007 only).

NPA 65 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated as 50% of your pension.

2015 Scheme: Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated as 37.5% of your pension.

Death while in deferred membership

NPA 60 (STSS): Partner’s pensions are calculated as 50% of your accrued pension (taking account of service from 1 April 2007 only).

NPA 65 (STSS): Partner’s pensions are calculated as 50% of your accrued pension.

2015 Scheme: Partner’s pension are calculated as 37.5% of your accrued pension.

Death within 12 months of leaving under the grounds of ill health

NPA 60 (STSS): Partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

NPA 65 (STSS): Partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

2015 Scheme: Partner’s pensions are calculated as 37.5% of members acrrued pension plus enhancement of 50% of the prospective period from the day after death to normal pension age and mutliplying this by 1/57th of the final full time equivalent pensionable earnings.

Death within 2 months of preservation

NPA 60 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

NPA 65 (STSS): Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated using service from 1 April 2007 plus enhancement of 50% of the service you could have completed before normal pension age.

2015 Scheme: Long-term partner’s pensions are calculated as 37.5% of members acrrued pension plus enhancement of 50% of the prospective period from the day after death to normal pension age and mutliplying this by 1/57th of the final full time equivalent pensionable earnings.

Would my partner’s pension stop if they form a new relationship?

No. Any pension payable to eligible non-legal partners is payable for life, regardless of whether they remarry, enter a civil partnership, or cohabit with someone else.

Will my partner receive any other benefits when I die?

A lump sum on death benefit may be payable in addition to any dependents’ pensions if you die before retiring or within five years of your retirement.

The death in service lump sum is equal to three times your annual pensionable pay or salary rate at the date of death. The amount payable where your die after retirement depends on the total amount of retirement benefits you’ve already received from the scheme up to the date of death. Sometimes the scheme’s liability may have already been discharged meaning no lump sum is payable, for example if you exchanged some of your pension to receive a lump sum or bigger lump sum when you retired.

The lump sum on death benefit is paid to the legal spouse, registered civil partner or qualifying non-legal partner unless you nominated someone else using the lump sum on death benefit nomination form.

What happens to non-legal partner benefits if you have service in the scheme before 1 April 2007?

Where a marriage has not been formalised and you joined the scheme prior to 1 April 2007, under Scots Law it is may be possible to constitute a valid ‘Marriage by Cohabitation with Habit and Repute’. If such a ‘marriage’ is established, death benefits can be paid as if the couple were married.

Basically, this means that you and your partner must have lived as husband and wife, both factually and intentionally. You must have been living together in Scotland as husband and wife and that people generally knew you as a ‘married’ couple. Both of you also had to have been free to marry.

Although this legal position was rarely used in practice, except for very particular circumstances, it was abolished by the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. As a consequence, only irregular marriages established before 4 May 2006 are able to be recognised by SPPA.

Please note: In the Scottish Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, only service from 1 April 2007 can count towards a non-legal partner's pension. However, if you were a member of the STSS before this date, you may be able to cover previous service by paying extra contributions. To do this, you would need to elect to purchase previous service within 6 months of your relationship meeting the qualifying terms of the scheme. Please contact us for further information. (end of expanded text)

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