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The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) has provided survivors’ benefits for the partners of service personnel whose death was attributable to their service from 6 April 2005. AFCS survivors’ benefits are unaffected by any marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation.

For deaths occurring before 6 April 2005, the overall payment may be made up of a non-attributable pension from Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS 75) and a compensation award. The compensation award may be made up of two parts.

  •  The War Widow(er)’s Pension under the War Pensions Scheme (WPS)
  • The Armed Forces Attributable Benefits Scheme (AFABS)

WPS & AFAB has different burdens of proof. There can be instances where only WPS is paid & no compensation is paid from AFAB.

Under both schemes, the original policy was to withdraw survivors’ benefits in the event of remarriage or cohabitation. Thees rules have changed for different groups in stages. In April 2015, they changed to allow all recipients of survivors’ pensions (whether under the War Pensions Scheme or AFABS) who remarried, formed a civil partnership or started cohabiting after that date, to keep their pension. However, this did not extend to those whose spouse died or left service between 31 March 1973 and5 April 2005, who had already surrendered a War Widows’ Pension on remarriage or cohabitation. In July 2015, the then Defence Minister Mark Lancaster summarised the position as follows:

It has been the policy of successive Governments that changes or improvements to all public service pension schemes should not be applied retrospectively. Therefore, there are no plans to reinstate war widows’ pensions for war widows who remarried between 1973 and 2005. However, from 1 April 2015 those who have already surrendered their pension due to remarriage or cohabitation can apply to have their pension restored for life should that relationship end.

The Department regularly receives representation from the War Widows Association as they are members of the Central Advisory Committee and the retention of war widows’ pensions on remarriage or cohabitation is one of the issues we have engaged on in recent years.

The change, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 8 November 2014, which allowed widows, widowers and surviving civil partners of all members of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and the War Pensions Scheme to retain their pensions for life came into effect from 1 April 2015. This harmonised the pension rules for Armed Forces widows with effect from the introduction of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme 2015 (PQ 6523 15 July 2015)

In February 2019, the then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described this as “a burning injustice” to which he was “committed to finding a solution.” (HC Deb 18 February 2019, c1187). On 30 January 2020, Defence Minister Johnny Mercer said that the War Widow’s Association had accepted in 2015 “that new legislation never has a retrospective effect, and that the change would apply only to those who were receiving the pension when the new legislation came into force that April” (HC Deb 30 January 2020 c1044).  However, on 15 March 2021, he said the Government continued to “examine all possibilities, including the ex gratia scheme […] the Secretary of State is committed to resolving it, and we will get there in the end”(HC Deb 15 March 2021 c22).

The introduction of lifetime survivors’ pensions in other public service schemes is covered in Library Briefing Paper SN-07109.

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