Widow's pension credit claim

AN Essex widow who was refused her pension credit because she lives with a male friend has accused the Government of sexual discrimination.Mary Legarde, 78, shares a bungalow with Jim Dennison in Frinton, but they sleep in separate bedrooms and use different bathrooms.

AN Essex widow who was refused her pension credit because she lives with a male friend has accused the Government of sexual discrimination.

Mary Legarde, 78, shares a bungalow with Jim Dennison in Frinton, but they sleep in separate bedrooms and use different bathrooms.

The house is owned equally between the couple, and the pensioners split the domestic bills.

However, when Mrs Legarde applied for a pension credit for single persons she was told there would be an enquiry into her circumstances.

An investigator from the Pension Service came to the home and spent about an hour asking questions about whether the friends watched television together and who did the gardening.

Mrs Legarde was informed she was not eligible because the two pensioners were "living as husband and wife".

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But had she been living with another woman, she would not have been investigated.

She said: "The bills are in joint names and we pay half each. If this had been two men living together or two women, the application would have gone ahead.

"I could not care less about the money but being dismissed because it's a mixed couple house and not the same sex is what angers me."

Mrs Legarde also said the implication of the decision was insulting.

"I am cross that a friendship can be so misrepresented. I am long past a husband and wife relationship, I am a widow," she added.

Mrs Legarde is appealing against the decision and may even have to appear before a tribunal. She said she was also considering taking the case to the sex discrimination ombudsman.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, spokesman for the National Pensioners Convention, said the credit system was too bureaucratic.

He said: "This case needs urgently reinvestigating in light of the lady's protests. They are simply living as friends in the same house and not as man and wife – it deserves a reassessment.

"This case goes to show how complex, intricate and intrusive the whole pension credit system is."

Help the Aged said the Government had made a mistake with the refusal.

A spokesman said: "I think the wrong decision has been made but am glad it is going to appeal because we might get a rethinking of the current rules."

The Department for Work and Pensions said it could not comment on individual cases.

A spokesman said: "Applications for pension credit are dealt with under existing Social Security Legislation.

"If an individual applies as a single person but is living with somebody then a judgement will be taken to determine whether they are living together as a husband and wife.

"The fact that opposite sex individuals living together can be assessed as not cohabiting demonstrates there is no question here of sex discrimination."

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