Military widows who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan will be able to marry again without losing their pensions, under new plans announced today.
A loophole in the rules meant that thousands of people who were widowed between 1973 and 2005 – a period covering conflicts in the Falklands, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan – lost their benefits if they remarried or started living with a new partner.
More recent widows were not affected, leading many to view the loophole as unfair. Service charities have long campaigned for a change in the law.
Many military families follow personnel around the world on postings – meaning it is difficult for spouses to carve out a career and build up their own pension provision.
The prime minister, David Cameron, said he had told officials to come up with a solution as part of the Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.
All spouses and civil partners who are beneficiaries will be able to remarry without losing the pensions from April 1.
This is a long-standing grievance and I think one which is very justified. David Cameron
Mr Cameron, who will meet military widows in Downing Street tomorrow as part of the Remembrance Day events, said: “This is a long-standing grievance and I think one which is very justified – people who were married to someone in the armed services and that person died and so they lost their pension if they married again.
“I think that wasn’t fair and I’m delighted that because we have a strong economy we can afford to make this change and give justice to these people.”
He added: “This reflects our clear commitment to uphold the Armed Forces Covenant which we enshrined in law.”
The government says the changes will potentially affect some 3,000 widows who would have lost their lifelong benefits by remarrying. The cost of the adjustment to the public purse is estimated to be around £120 million over the next 40 years.
Defence Minister Anna Soubry said she was “quite happy” to have another look at whether the changes should be applied retrospectively.
Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said: “As the spouse of a member of the British Armed Forces your career can take a back seat as a result of relocation and frequent moves, therefore many miss out on the chance to build up an independent pension pot.
“The Armed Forces Covenant recognises that no one should suffer a disadvantage due to Service, and that the bereaved are entitled to special consideration. That is why today’s announcement, that all widows and widowers will retain their pension for life, is so important.”