A neighbour of mine died recently and her partner experienced some difficulties in claiming the dependant’s pension. In this particular case, they were unmarried, so a spouse’s pension was not applicable, and the claim involved a public sector pension scheme whose requirements were more prescribed than those generally seen in the private sector.
In most cases of awarding a financial dependant’s pension the trustees simply look for evidence that two people are living together and/or somehow sharing the cost of living. In this case, the surviving partner also needed to prove he and the member were free to marry each other. This means that where applicable copies of both parties’ divorce paperwork are also required.
Proving Financial Dependency
As is normal, the scheme in question also asked for proof of financial dependence. This is usually demonstrated through evidence individuals live together and share bills. Council tax statements are a great way of demonstrating you live with someone…HOWEVER…in this case, once the Council’s system had been updated to remove the member, the house was registered only in the partner’s name. The “historic” statements produced by the system now showed only the partner’s name and not the member’s.
The lesson learned is BEFORE you change the name on Council tax accounts, or any other utilities/bank accounts, ensure you obtain a copy of a statement that contains the member’s (and ideally yours) details as proof that you were both party to the contract.
Only after this should you update everything to the surviving partner’s name.
It is also important to note that the evidence obtained should be dated within 3 months of the members’ death. This might not be a strict requirement but makes it a lot easier for trustees to accept the documents without further question.
If all the bills are in the partner’s name and you can prove you live with them, accepting your financial dependence is relatively easy. If you are making payments to your partner as a contribution to those bills then being able to demonstrate this will also be helpful.
Remember we are trying to prove a financial dependency on the member. If all bills are in your name then you need to demonstrate (if this is the case) that the member was contributing towards those costs and that your finances are affected by the loss of the member. If the member gives you money then evidence of this will be needed (bank statements from both sides are best). Trustees may ask for long-term evidence of these types of arrangements, so consider getting statements going back 6 months. Again, you may need to act quickly after a member has died to obtain the statements before account names are changed.
What You Need to do
In summary, obtain copies of official documents/bills showing both the member and your names prior to changing any account details. Ensure you can find paperwork relating to marriage/civil partnership and, if applicable, divorce/dissolution.
We know that claiming benefits justly entitled to at what is a very difficult and often complex time isn’t easy. Understanding what paperwork is needed and the impact of timing is an area often overlooked.
If You Are Not Financially Dependent
If you don’t have any financial dependency on the member and you are not married to (or in a civil partnership with) them then unfortunately you are unlikely to receive any pension benefits There may be a lump sum you could be awarded, but this is usually at the discretion of the Trustees.
As well as being a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, Sarah Marshall is an Accredited Trustee through the Association of Professional Pension Trustees. She is frequently appointed as a sole trustee and has extensive experience in streamlined scheme management and working closely with the employer in this role. She has also developed member engagement programmes for Defined Contribution schemes, including holding Q & A sessions with the membership and increasing the visibility of the trustee role.
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