Calls to change 'discriminatory' law against trans women in Northern Ireland

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NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby (left) and Frances Shiels

By Cate McCurry, PA

There have been calls to change a law in Northern Ireland which "discriminates" against transgender woman in claiming their state pension.

It comes after transgender woman Frances Shiels was facing a financial loss of thousands of pounds after the Pension Service said her state pension would only be backdated to when she received her gender recognition certificate and not her 63rd birthday.

The Human Rights Commission took a case against the Department for Communities to back pay her state pension entitlements.

The 67-year-old from Co Londonderry received her gender recognition certificate in February 2015 and she then applied for her state pension in April that year.

Ms Shiels was told she could not receive her pension as a woman until legal and administrative hurdles had been overcome, causing her financial loss.

Current legislation in Northern Ireland states that an individual must not be married to obtain a full certificate.

Northern Ireland is still the only part of the UK where this is required.

In April 2019, the Commission entered into settlement discussions with the Department for Communities and agreed to settle the case on the basis that Ms Shiels was given the full amount that she would have received from her qualifying date.

The Commission settled the case and the government department has now paid out to restore her full entitlements.

Speaking after the settlement, Ms Shiels said: "I knew from the outset that I was not being treated fairly but was only able to establish my rights when I received help from the Human Rights Commission.

"It is important that the rights of transgender individuals are properly respected and that we can fully participate in society like everyone else."

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby added: "We are delighted with the settlement for Frances.

"We argued that the initial decision of the Pensions Service was discriminatory under the Human Rights Act and caused her a significant financial loss, we are happy this has now been fixed.

"The only factor preventing a full entitlement in this case was the requirement that transgender individuals should be unmarried.

"Northern Ireland is still the only part of the UK where this is required.

"The law needs to be amended to end this discrimination.

"In this case a transgender woman was treated differently when trying to apply for a state pension in Northern Ireland.

"We are unaware of how many more transgender women this may affect."

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