Call to end ‘terrible injustice’ of denying unmarried couples bereavement benefits

The Government must take urgent action to end the “terrible injustice” of denying bereavement benefits to unmarried couples, MPs have said.

The Work and Pensions Committee said ministers have acted “too slowly” in response to last year’s landmark legal ruling in favour of mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin (pictured).

She was refused bereavement benefits after her partner of 23 years, John Adams, died from cancer in January 2014 because the couple were not married or in a civil partnership.

But the Supreme Court said the rule was “incompatible” with human rights legislation.

Committee chairman Frank Field criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP’s) defence of its policy as a report on bereavement support payment (BSP) was published on Tuesday.

“Cohabiting families have been waiting 14 months for the Government to make up their mind following their defeat in the Supreme Court,” he said.

“It is risible for ministers to claim that ‘cohabitation is a complex concept’ while applying it when it suits them in the rest of the benefits system.

“All the while, suffering is heaped on suffering for bereaved children. The Government has allowed this terrible injustice to go on far too long: it must make it right, and urgently.”

The McLaughlin ruling did not apply directly to the BSP, the Government’s main bereavement benefit, but the committee said the principle is the same.

BSP is paid to the surviving spouse or civil partner of a person who has died, made up of a lump sum followed by up to 18 monthly payments.

The committee said bereaved children could instead be directly eligible for bereavement benefits and concluded BSP should be given to unmarried couples and their children.

“Bereaved cohabitees with dependent children face similar costs of bereavement to other families-exactly the sort of costs that BSP is intended to mitigate,” the report said.

“There is no good reason to deny BSP to these families. The Government needs urgently to rectify this injustice.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting people during bereavement and with the introduction of Bereavement Support Payment in April 2017, have widened the support available.

“This is in addition to help provided for cohabiting couples through the wider welfare system.

“We are considering possible options in response to the judgment.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Family Handout / PA Wire.