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08 October

What next for 'Civil Partnerships' ?

A Civil Partnership is a legally recognised relationship between same-sex couples that provides the same rights and responsibilities as a conventional marriage. However, unlike a conventional marriage, there are no religious connotations.

The main advantages that civil partners gain from their legal union are financial, and relate to tax benefits, pensions and inheritance. It is generally accepted that people who enter into a civil partnership don’t necessarily do so for financial reasons but do so because they have a loving and sexual relationship too. However, a new line of thinking has arisen which suggests that the scope of who can enter into a civil partnership ought to be extended.

Charles Neal, Head of the Private Client department at Bell & Buxton Solicitors, explores this new concept.


“Recently I met clients to prepare Wills - “mirror Wills” to be exact - where they each leave everything to the survivor, and then on to other people or organisations.  These two people had lived in the same house, owned by one of them, for more than 50 years.  So far so normal.  But these people were not a couple, the were brothers.  They had supported and looked after each other all their lives.  Obviously, they were neither married nor in a Civil Partnership and so, just to take one example, if the older brother died then the younger brother would inherit the house and all his brothers’ assets but would have to find funds to pay a hefty inheritance tax liability. He may even have to sell the home that he has lived in for over 50 years so he can pay the tax bill.

That seems utterly unfair.  It seems strange that in the 21st century we seem unable to provide in our tax system for such arrangements.  There are some proposals to recognise cohabiting couples, but this is some way off yet. In the meantime, people remain under the misconception that ‘common law marriage’ exists and that this gives them the same rights as married couples - sadly, it doesn’t. “Common law marriage” simply doesn’t exist, meaning that cohabiting couples don’t have any tax rights unless they marry or enter a civil Partnership.

 A recent decision by the Supreme Court has started to open the door for heterosexual couples to enter Civil Partnerships.  All well and good, but this doesn’t recognise the very real situation of my clients and many others like them.  People living with siblings in adult live is not uncommon. These ‘couples’  have shared resources, support each other emotionally and sometimes even raise children together. Essentially, they do everything that we recognise in marriage and Civil Partnerships.

Thanks to people like Catherine and Ginder Utley, who have shared their story in the press, I hope that in the future the law will formally recognise a variety of long-term mutually support living arrangements.

In the meantime, there are, things that can be done to reduce your exposure to inheritance tax whatever your personal circumstances.  Everyone, whether you’re married/civil partnered or not, should seek legal advice on your inheritance tax position.”