• NHS Business Services Authority says it will no longer require partners to be formally nominated for survivor benefits
  • Decision means partners previously rejected for pension benefits will be entitled to backdated payments
  • Rule change follows decision of the Supreme Court in February that said the rule was discrimination and breached human rights

NHS trusts are to be asked for help in tracking down unmarried former partners of deceased NHS staff who were wrongly denied pension benefits, HSJ has learned.

The NHS Business Services Authority is to grant the surviving partners of NHS staff who were previously locked out of the NHS pension scheme new rights, which will see them receive backdated payments.

The decision has been made by Business Services Authority, which administers the pension scheme, following a decision in the Supreme Court in February.

As a result, cohabiting partners of NHS staff who have died will be able to claim survivor benefits even if they were not formally nominated by their partner – as was required under the old rules.

The NHS pension scheme provides a lump sum payment and continuing pension benefits to surviving spouses or nominated individuals, but until this rule changes those not formally nominated were unable to claim any survivor benefits.

The authority is to ask NHS trusts for help identifying potential beneficiaries who originally had their claims rejected because of the administrative hurdle, which the Supreme Court ruled was illegal and amounted to discrimination and a breach of human rights laws.

In February, Denise Brewster successfully challenged the requirement in the local government pension scheme for Northern Ireland that a surviving adult partner had to be nominated to be entitled to the payment of survivor benefits. She had been living with her partner, Lenny McMullan, for 10 years before he died in 2009.

There are 1.5m active members of the NHS pension scheme and there are no firm estimates as to how many surviving partners of former staff could now come forward to make historical claims.

A spokesman for the Business Services Authority said: “The implications of this ruling have been considered independently by the public sector pension schemes and we as the NHS pension scheme have decided to change our processes with immediate effect.”

He added the changes applied to members of the scheme on or after 1 April 2008, which is when the requirement for nominated partners was brought in.

“We will shortly notify scheme employers about this change and ask them if they are aware or become aware of a claim which has been previously rejected or of a partner who has not previously made a claim because they believed there was no entitlement.

“We are currently considering what other actions to identify and communicate with potential claimants should be undertaken,” the spokesman said.

Partner nominations are no longer required, though they are still encouraged. Without a nomination, claimants will still need to provide evidence of their relationship in the two years prior to the staff member’s death.