Elderly sisters told they can’t have same tax rights as gays

Two elderly sisters have lost their battle to enjoy the same tax benefits as same-sex couples who register for civil partnerships.

Joyce Burden, 90, and her sister Sybil, 82, have lived together in the same house for years, caring for older family members and now for one another.

Concerned that when one of them dies the other will have to sell the house to cover inheritance duties, the sisters have campaigned for decades to have their relationship treated like a marriage for the purposes of tax law.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allows same-sex couples to register as civil partners, exempting them from inheritance tax. However, the Act prevents partnerships from being registered between close relatives.

Before the law was passed it was argued by The Christian Institute and others that it ought to be extended to allow long-term cohabiting family members to register as civil partners, in the same way as same-sex couples. This would have made civil partnerships fairer and less like ‘gay marriage’.

The Institute placed a full-page advert in The Times newspaper in 2004 arguing for this (see the advert).

The plan was supported by 84 per cent of the public, and an amendment to include it in the new law was accepted by the House of Lords, but defeated in the Commons.

Joyce and Sybil Burden

Sybil and Joyce Burden outside their home in 1966.

Following the introduction of the Act without the provision for family members, the Burdens decided to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

They claimed that the Government was discriminating against them unfairly by withholding from them the tax rights now available to same-sex civil partners.

The case was referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court, comprising 17 judges. The Grand Chamber ruled that the sisters could not be compared with a married or Civil Partnership Act couple, and so no discrimination had taken place.

Joyce Burden said: “If we were lesbians we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters and it seems we have no rights at all.”