A recent Supreme Court ruling could see bereavement benefits, which are only currently available to married parents, be made available to cohabiting parents as well. The Supreme Court ruled that the current UK law breaches human rights legislation by denying these benefits to parents who aren't married.
What are Bereavement Benefits?
Bereavement Benefits are payments made by the government to an eligible parent who has been widowed or who has lost their civil partner. The purpose of Bereavement Benefits is to alleviate financial pressures on bereaved parents at a time of difficulty and provide financial support to families following the loss of a parent.
There are different types of Bereavement Benefits, depending on the couple's circumstances. However, they all have one thing in common and that is that the parents had to have been married or in a civil partnership at the time of death.
Bereavement Benefits will only be paid if the person who died was the other parent of the children. It will not be paid if the two parents were divorced, nor if the surviving parent remarries or enters into a new civil partnership.
Types of Bereavement Benefits include:
- Bereavement Allowance – this is a weekly payment available for up to 52 weeks. The amount will depend on the surviving parent's age and the National Insurance contributions of the deceased parent. The maximum weekly rate is £117.10.
- Widowed Parent's Allowance – this is a weekly allowance of up to £117.10 per week until your youngest child turns 16.
- Bereavement Payment – this is a one-off, tax free payment of £2,000.
- Bereavement Support Payment – this is an initial payment of up to £3,500 followed by 18 payments of up to £350 per month.
Bereaved parents may be entitled to one or more of these benefits. More information can be found on Gov.uk.
The Supreme Court Ruling
A mother who lost her partner and the father of her four children in 2014 was told she was not entitled to any Bereavement Benefits as she and her partner had not been married. She and her partner had been together for 23 years when he died.
She has been fighting a legal battle ever since, claiming unlawful discrimination based on her marital status.
Initially, she won her case but this ruling was then overturned by the Court of Appeal. Ultimately the case reached the Supreme Court, who ruled in her favour in what has been hailed as a landmark ruling. The judges agreed that she should be entitled to Bereavement Benefits, and that to deny her these benefits because of her marital status was discriminatory and a breach of her human rights.
When delivering the ruling, Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court commented "The purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent. That loss is the same whether or not the parents are married or in a civil partnership with one another."
Although this particular case took place in Northern Ireland, it is expected to have a significant impact on legislation across the UK and changes to the law in light of the ruling are anticipated.
Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with around 1.2m cohabiting couples currently living in the UK with children. Aside from not being entitled to Bereavement Benefits, cohabiting couples are also not offered any form of legal recognition or protection in the event of separation or of one person's death. For more information, see Think You're Protected by Common Law Marriage? You're Not.