Last week the Supreme Court ruled that denying bereavement benefits from cohabiting partners with children because they are unmarried is unlawful and at odds with human rights law.
After the death of her partner of 23 years, Siobhan McLaughlin from Northern Ireland challenged the current law which stopped unmarried couples with children getting financial support following the death of their partner. Widowed Parents Allowance (WPA) is available to married couples or those in civil partnerships where the partner died before April 2017. In April 2017, WPA was replaced by Bereavement Support Payment, however, unmarried couples were still not eligible to claim. Had Siobhan and her partner, John Adams, been married she would have been able to claim WPA.
The UK’s Supreme Court ruled that this was incompatible with human rights law. Lady Hale delivered the majority decision, stating “it is difficult indeed to see the justification for denying people and their children benefits, or paying them at a lower rate of benefit, simply because the adults are not married to one another. Their need, and more importantly their children’s needs, are the same.”
This decision is likely to put pressure on ministers to consider changing the rules concerning bereavement support payment. This should benefit a great number of families given that the number of unmarried cohabiting families in the UK is rising. At present there are some 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK, 1.2 million of which have children. The ruling of the Supreme Court will doubtless lead to a significant change in the law for cohabiting couples and their children.
If you have lost a partner or close family member or friend recently and need advice please contact a member of our Private Client team who will be happy to help. Don’t delay, call Silks today.