Following a ruling against a surviving gay partner, unmarried same-sex couples in South Africa have been warned to make sure their partners are listed as beneficiaries of their pension funds.

Earlier this month, Muvhango Lukhaimane, the Deputy Pension Funds Adjudicator, dismissed a complaint against the AECI Pension Fund by a man who argued that he was entitled to his late partner’s monthly spousal pension.

The man said that the pension fund should have known that he was in a relationship with his partner because they were both part of the same fund and received their correspondence at the same postal address.

The men had been together since 1984 and the deceased partner passed away in March 2009.

Lukhaimane, however said that the trustees of the fund correctly followed their rules that stipulate that anyone “associated with the member in a customary union or a permanent same-sex life partnership” must be nominated “in writing to and accepted by the trustees” to be entitled to the pension of his or her spouse.

Unfortunately, the deceased man had failed to notify the fund that he was in a same-sex relationship with his partner and had in fact listed himself as being “single”.

The pension fund said that because he was listed as single, it had not made provision for a spouse’s pension.

Lukhaimane noted that the pension fund had communicated its rules on the matter to its members and that as a member of the same pension scheme the surviving partner should also have been aware of the fund’s rules.

The ruling is especially significant for same-sex couples who are not in a registered civil partnership nor legally married, which would otherwise afford them more protection in this regard.

Speaking to The Saturday Star, Dawie Nel, the director of LGBT health and well-being NGO OUT, said that while the ruling was unfortunate, he understood the decision. He commented that “equal rights come with responsibility” and urged members of same-sex couples to register their relationships with their pension funds.

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