Only gay and lesbian couples living in England and Wales will be entitled to the same financial and ...
Only gay and lesbian couples living in England and Wales will be entitled to the same financial and legal status to heterosexual married couples, under proposals unveiled by the Department for Trade and Industry.
Concern is already being expressed by industry experts that new Civil Partnership registration proposals will only extend to England and Wales, as runs counter to the traditional Inland Revenue tax position.
Under the plans, same sex couples will now have the same financial and legal rights as married couples, allowing them to share joint state pension benefits, obtain parental responsibility for each other's children and "maintain each other financially" says the DTI, as well as inherit property as a partner.
Although it will not be seen in legal terms as a marriage, couples will be able to register their relationship in the presence of two civil registrars and two witnesses, but will also have to dissolve any arrangement through the courts, in much the same fashion as couples seeking a divorce.
Once registration is taken, the couple will then be entitled to adopt the same rights to inheritance and intestacy rules as married couples, receive tenancy succession rights, as well as claim a survivor pension, become eligible for bereavement benefits, receive compensation for fatal accidents or injuries of their partner and register the death of the partner.
While the move is broadly welcomed, the decision to apply tax-specific reforms to England and Wales law only - to the exclusion of Scotland and Northern Ireland - has perplexed tax and technical experts such as Margaret Jago, technical support manager at Scottish Equitable, because tax law is usually applied as a whole to the entire United Kingdom.
"Although the document says the aim is extend rules across the entire tax system, it only applies to England and Wales," says Jago.
"It may have been done on the grounds of devolved government and linked tax status, but for tax purposes English law has always been seen to be superior - even though it is not in reality - than the regions. If anything, this will hold up tax reform," she adds.
Jago argues it may be the government recognised the huge differences in some places between English and Scottish law, and find it impossible to try and rectify law over several jurisdictions - ie England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but the situation is still an unusual one in relation to widescale tax matters.
A spokeswoman for the DTI confirms its powers over such matters are now devolved to Scotland and separately again for Northern Ireland, so the DTI has no control over them.
But this appears to be the first time devolved status has extended to tax laws.
An additional benefit which seems to appear within the consultation, says Jago, concerns 'insurable interests' law.
There is now no limit to the amount a same-sex couple can insure each other for when purchasing an insurance policy, if the intention is to cover the cost of Inheritance Tax, suggests Jago.
Testing of the same sex civil register was launched in London by Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2001, but there are now nine other countries in the European Union already have provision for recognising those in committed same-sex partnerships.
Consultation period for civil partnership closes on 30 September 2003.
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