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2016 National Retired Members Conference
2 June 2016
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that in a recent survey, 51% of the population prefer to remain living together in long-term relationships without feeling the need to go through a ceremony of marriage. If UNISON members reflect society, then this would mean over half a million members, including retired members, will find themselves in this position.

There is no such thing as a common law partner and such “partners” in long term relationships cannot acquire any legal rights over property or assets owned by either partner simply by virtue of the fact that they have lived together as a couple for a period of time. For example, a civil partnership or married couple’s house will be treated as a joint asset in the event of a partner’s death and exempt from Inheritance Tax. In 2009 the Law Commission wanted to end rules dating back more than 80 years and give partners who did not marry or enter into a civil partnership the same rights. They admitted that the proposals were controversial but insisted that current laws “reflect some of the social conditions and attitudes of a different era” and needed to be brought into line with “modern families”. They were particularly keen for a review of intestacy rules which govern what happens if someone dies without a will.

The Commission proposed placing unmarried couples who had co-habited for a period of time on a par with married couples and those in civil partnerships. Since 2009, this issue has not been progressed by any Government. These changes to the law are especially important to UNISON retired members, particularly those who have been retired some time and have been home owners for a number of years and have decided for whatever reason not to enter into a civil partnership or marriage.

Some of the problems can be overcome by willing property and chattels to each other but this does not exempt anyone from Inheritance Tax and could result in a former shared home being sold to meet the cost. This is especially difficult for retired members who have been in a long-term relationship only to discover, on the death of a partner, that they are facing financial discrimination when they are at their most vulnerable and unable to cope with this additional burden. This can result in their being forced to move home at a time in their lives when they would find this an impossible challenge and unwanted burden.

Conference calls upon the National Retired Members’ Committee to liaise with the National Executive Council, National Pensioners’ Convention and Scottish Pensioners’ Forum to campaign for a change to the law to establish that partners in long term relationships have the same rights over inheritance as married couples and those in civil partnerships.