There are many ways in which the law treats married and unmarried couples differently, on separation and on death. However a recent landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court could see unmarried couples allowed to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
Widowed Parent’s Allowance is a state benefit which can be claimed by a parent in the event of the other’s death. Under the current law to be eligible to claim, you must have been the spouse or the civil partner of the deceased (and their death occurred before 6th April 2017).
The case before the Supreme Court involved an unmarried mother of 4 from Northern Ireland, who had lived with her partner for 23 years. According to the existing legislation this meant that she was not eligible to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance following the death of her partner. The Court ruled that this was incompatible with Human Rights laws, in particular Article 14 Protection from Discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s ruling does not change the current law but it will undoubtedly put pressure on ministers to change the rules to ensure that it is human right compliant. Whilst the case was brought in Northern Ireland, it has implications for the rest of the UK as the eligibility criteria is the same.
Widowed Parent’s Allowance has recently been phased out and replaced by Bereavement Support Payments. These payments can be claimed not just by parents but by anyone whose spouse or civil partner paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks or who died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work. It will therefore remain to be seen how the ruling will affect the way in which people claiming the new Bereavement Support Payments are treated.