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Over time, improvements have been made to survivors’ benefits in public service pension schemes, including those for the armed forces. These have included making pensions payable for life (rather than withdrawing them on remarriage of cohabitation) and extending entitlement to unmarried partners – see SN 6348 Occupational pensions: survivors’ benefits for cohabitants.

Successive governments have argued that discretionary improvements to benefits from public service pension schemes should generally not be applied retrospectively, on the basis that this would make any worthwhile improvements unaffordable. This has led to some long-running campaigns.

Following a campaign by the Royal British Legion and Forces Pension Society, the Government announced on 8 November 2014 that it would end the practice of withdrawing on remarriage or cohabitation ‘non-attributable’ widow’s pensions from the Armed Force Pension Scheme 1975. There would also be a change to allow all those in receipt of a War Widows’ Pension on or after 1 April 2015 to retain it for life (see SN 568)

A further issue on which there has been a long campaign is the fact that people who left the armed forces before April 1975 did not have rights to a preserved pension. This is discussed in Library Note SN 1151 Armed forces pension scheme and preserved pensions.

The development of armed forces pensions is discussed in SN 5892 Armed forces pension reform, 1995-2005 and SN 5891 Armed Forces Pension Scheme, 2011 onwards.

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