Denying bereavement benefits to unmarried, cohabiting partners with children is incompatible with human rights law, court rules.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a bereaved mother who was not married to her children’s father and so could not, according to the Government’s eligibility criteria, receive the Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
This allowance is intended to provide for children in the event of a parent’s death. However, it can only be claimed by a husband, wife, or civil partner.
Widows Parent’s Allowance was replaced last year by Bereavement Support Payment but the restrictions are the same.
The case relates to County Antrim mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin. When her partner John died after 23 years together, she was not eligible for the Widowed Parent’s Allowance because she and John had not married.
The Supreme Court ruled that the current policy is a breach of the Human Rights Act.
Alison Penny, director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, welcomed the court’s decision and pointed out that parents make the same National Insurance contributions whether they are married or cohabiting.
‘We pay tribute to Siobhan for having the courage to bring this test case and improve the situation for thousands of grieving children and their surviving parents,’ said Ms. Penny.
‘While she brought her case in Northern Ireland, it has implications for the rest of the UK where the wording of the eligibility criteria is the same. If current policy is in breach of the Human Rights Act in Northern Ireland, it must be in breach in the rest of the UK too.
‘We estimate that every year, over 2,000 families like Siobhan’s face the double hit of one parent dying, and the other parent realising that they and the children are not eligible for bereavement benefits.
‘And with cohabiting couples the fastest growing family type in the UK, the problem would only have got worse. On average, a cohabiting parent earning £10,000 a year lost out by over £15,000 over the children’s childhood if their partner died and they couldn’t claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance.’
A spokesperson for the Department for Work & Pensions said: 'We will consider the court’s ruling carefully.
'Widowed Parent’s Allowance was a contributory benefit, and it has always been the case that inheritable benefits derived from another person’s contributions should be based on the concept of legal marriage or civil partnership.
'This ruling doesn’t change the current eligibility rules for receiving bereavement benefits, which are paid only to people who are married or in a civil partnership.'