Ruling Follows Pro-Bono Support From Law Firm To National Children’s Bureau
Denying bereavement benefits to unmarried, cohabiting partners with children is incompatible with human rights law, judges have ruled.
A Supreme Court judgment has been handed down today regarding the so-called widowed parent’s allowance.
Judges ruled that the current law which prevents unmarried couples with children from claiming financial help to support their family following their partner’s death are in breach of the family’s human rights. Married couples are allowed to claim benefits.
The decision follows submissions by The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) which received pro-bono legal support from national law firm Irwin Mitchell.
Expert OpinionThis is a hugely important case which will have a major impact on great number of families across the UK.
“With cohabitation on the rise, the issue as to whether unmarried parents should be able to access vital financial support following the death of a partner is clearly a vital one, and the National Children’s Bureau is delighted that the Supreme Court has today recognised that children should not suffer a disadvantage just because their parents chose not to marry.
“We are proud to have lent our support to the National Children’s Bureau and are delighted at the Supreme Court’s judgment.” Alex Rook - Partner
The case related to Siobhan McLaughlin, a mother-of-four from County Antrim, Northern Ireland. She launched a legal challenge to access the allowance following the death of her partner of 23 years, John Adams, in 2014.
While she won the original case against the Department for Communities in the High Court, the ruling was then overturned following an appeal. The Supreme Court has now overturned that decision.
In their judgment, judges said: “Where means-tested benefits are concerned, it is difficult indeed to see the justification for denying people and their children benefits, or paying them a lower rate of benefit, simply because the adults are not married to one another. Their needs, and more importantly their children’s needs, are the same.”
In its submission, the National Children’s Bureau highlighted how 20 per cent of families with children in the UK are cohabited, while 43 per cent of babies were born outside of marriage in Northern Ireland in 2016.
The NCB has also pointed to anecdotal evidence from benefits advisers, who have revealed that many people do not understand the full implications of not being married until it is too late, with the issue often causing a huge amount of distress and financial problems for those involved.
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling human rights cases.