As the law stands cohabitees are not able to claim the government-funded widowed parents allowance (WPA). Campaigners like pressure group Resolution argue that it’s just one example of the discriminatory treatment of the six million or so people who live together without being married. But could a recent Supreme Court decision mean the WPA is about to be extended so that the cohabitees can also benefit when one partner dies?

What Is The Widowed Parent’s Allowance?

The WPA is available to those whose husband, wife or civil partner died before 6 April 2017. If death occurred after that date a bereavement support payment may be available. It consists of a lump sum payment, currently £3,500 followed by 18 monthly payments of £350 So it’s a considerable benefit.

What Has The Supreme Court Decided?

A Northern Ireland woman, Siobhan McLaughlin discovered that when her partner, John Adams, died in 2014 she couldn’t access the WPA. This was despite the fact they had cohabited for more than 20 years and had children together. In a widely publicised decision the Supreme Court upheld Ms. McLoughlin’s claim that the rules on WPA discriminated against her and her children and represented an infringement of their human rights.

In her judgment the Supreme Court president Baroness Hale said limiting WPA benefits to married couples and civil partners could not be justified. She stressed that the needs of children of cohabitees are exactly the same to the needs of children of married couples.

When Will The Law On Bereavement Benefits Change?

That’s up to Parliament. Despite calls by a parliamentary committee as far back as 2016 to remove he marriage/civil partnership stipulation there have been no signs of any intention to change the law. Having said that the Supreme Court decision is likely to increase the chances of a change to the law that would impact up to 2,000 families. We’ve seen recently how the Supreme Court decision in Owens v Owens led almost immediately to a consultation on no-fault divorce . Could the WPA be the subject of a similar change? It remains to be seen.

A Word About Private Pensions

While all pension schemes have their own rules and benefits, cohabitees should examine the terms closely. While there is often an automatic payout to husbands, wives and civil partners, unmarried partners may need to explicitly nominate their partner as a beneficiary to receive any post death lump sum. And not all pension providers will permit this. If you have concerns you should approach your pension provider directly.

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