Campaign to end pensions anomaly: Marriages after retirement can catch out civil servants' widows, Caroline Merrell reports

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The Independent Online
THE WIDOW of a former diplomat is planning to start a campaign to increase the pensions of civil servants' widows and widowers.

Mary Pickard, a former civil servant herself, was shocked to find that she was not entitled to any part of the pension earned by her husband Sir Cyril Pickard after he died.

Lady Pickard is caught by an anomaly in pensions for civil servants and local government employees. Last month, The Independent highlighted the plight of Joyce Ramsden who had been left with a very small pension on the death of her husband.

The civil service and local government pensions do not pay the same benefit to the surviving spouse of marriages that took place post-retirement as they do to those of a marriage that took place before retirement. Spouses of marriages that took place before retirement are eligible for half the pension benefits.

One aim of schemes set up in this way was to prevent 'death-bed' marriages where the arrangement was to exploit the widow's pension.

Lady Pickard married her husband in 1983, nine years after he retired. She was his second wife - his first wife died of cancer in 1982. For more than nine years they lived comfortably on his ambassador's pension of about pounds 36,000. At the end of 1992 Sir Cyril died of Parkinson's disease, and she was horrified to discover that she was not entitled to any of his pension.

She wrote to her union, the First Division Association, which was sympathetic but said the rules applied to public servants who retired before 6 April 1978 and then remarried or married after retirement.

'I have spoken to many ex-colleagues of myself and my husband who were quite unaware of the ruling, and assumed that on Sir Cyril's death I would be comparatively well off,' she said.

'In fact my income is derived from my own two small pensions - occupational and state. My husband left me nothing. He had no capital and because he had Parkinson's disease he was not eligible for any life assurance.

'It seems to me that the public service in its treatment of widows sets a very bad example. I feel that I and those like me should protest loud and clear at the harsh and unfair treatment meted out to widows in my position and that of Mrs Ramsden.'

She added that the union said that the widow of a former Speaker of the House of Commons was in the same position but had been awarded a pension through a special act.

Another equally disgruntled former local government employer is Dennis Hitch from York, who retired early and then remarried. He and his wife Margaret have written to their local MP, John Greenway, to complain about the unfairness of the scheme.

He said that he had paid normal pensions contributions for 30 years and did not see why his second wife should not benefit.

He said: 'It is a gross injustice. The Government is aware of this anomaly but has repeatedly refused to amend the local government superannuation regulations to right this injustice. The local councils have no discretion in the matter. It appears that the Government will only act if forced to do so by the European Court of Justice. So I say, more power to the European Community for we cannot rely on our own government to give us justice.'

Anyone who would like to back Lady Pickard's campaign should write to her c/o The Personal Finance Department at The Independent, 40 City Road, London, ECIY 2DB.

(Photograph omitted)

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