The UK’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a bereaved mother who wasn’t married to her children’s father and thus not eligible for the government’s ‘Widowed Parent’s Allowance’.

Mother of four Siobhan McLaughlin from County Antrim had been with her partner, John, for twenty-three years. The Supreme Court ruled that denying bereavement benefits to co-habiting partners was a breach of human rights law.

The allowance is to help provide for children in the event of a parent’s death, but it can only be claimed by a husband, wife or civil partner. Last year, the ‘Bereavement Support Payment’ replaced the ‘Widowed Parent’s Allowance’, but the same restrictions are in place.

Same national insurance contributions

As reported on the Local Government website, Alison Penny, of the Childhood Bereavement Network, said she welcomed the court’s decision, pointing out that parents make the same national insurance contributions whether they are married or not.

She added that they paid tribute to Siobhan for having the courage to bring the test case. Its results will improve the situation for thousands of grieving children and their surviving mothers or fathers.

While the case was brought in Northern Ireland, it has implications for the rest of the UK as the policy will be in breach of human rights UK-wide.

Double hit

The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates more than 2,000 families every year face the double hit of one parent dying and the other parent working out that they aren’t eligible for the bereavement benefit.

Cohabiting couples make up the fastest growing family situation in the UK. On average, the network says, a cohabiting parent earning £10,000 a year lost out by more than £15,000 over the children’s childhood if the other parent dies and they can’t claim the ‘Widowed Parent’s Allowance’.

The Department of Work and Pensions said it would consider the court’s ruling carefully. The department describes the benefit as “contributory benefit”, and that inheritable benefits that come from another’s contributions should be based on marriage or a civil partnership.

Doesn’t change rules

The statement said: “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.”

Danny Curran, Finders International’s founder and managing director, said: “Families are changing—not everyone wants to, or feels they should, get married, but the point about national insurance contributions rings true for us. Let’s hope the ruling brings about a change in the eligibility criteria all over the UK for this important benefit.”