High Court Rules Bereavement Payments System Incompatible With Human Rights Law
Cohabiting parents should be allowed to receive bereavement support even if they are not married, according to a new ruling from the High Court.
The Court has ruled today (7 February) that the eligibility criterion for Higher Rate Bereavement Support Payments is incompatible with human rights law following a lengthy legal battle.
The case was made by charity Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of two families where the mother had died; leaving the left-behind fathers raising families on their own without the financial support awarded to couples that had been married.
Both men had been in long-term relationships with their partners and they had children together. When the mothers had died, both applied for Bereavement Support Payments, only to be rejected on the basis the two were not married at the time of death.
This is not the first time bereavement support payments have come under fire; in 2018 the Supreme Court found it was incompatible to leave Siobhan McLaughlin, an unmarried mother of four children, without Widowed Parents’ Allowance after the death of her long-term partner, John Adams, who died in 2014.
The ruling will come as a relief to many cohabiting couples, who currently have very little legal protection in comparison to married couples.
Family law experts at national law firm Irwin Mitchell say the success comes as a small win in the grand scheme of cohabiting couples’ legal rights, which have a long way to go.
Expert Opinion“This ruling is a baby step in the right direction for cohabiting couples. The courts are finally recognising that our systems are behind the times, and modern life is now completely different to what the law currently provides families.
“While government doesn’t make the time for these issues, the courts are sending the message that they are doing what they can. It is fantastic to see the precedent set by the High Court for partners, already devastated by their partner’s death and often facing raising children on their own, to get the financial support they need.
“What remains to be seen is a full set of reforms for cohabiting couples, laid out in law, so that the law is brought up to date and that families do not needlessly face hardship because of legal technicalities.” Zahra Pabani - Partner
Cohabiting couple households are rapidly growing in the UK, with the latest Office for National Statistics data putting the figure at 3.5 million households, or 18.4% - an increase from the 15.3% figure seen ten years ago.
Various forms of the Cohabitation Bill have been touted in Parliament, with the last reiteration of protection for cohabiting couples’ rights last heard in the House of Lords in March 2019.