Should Unmarried Parents Get Bereavement Pay?
Posted on 21st May 2021
This week, a cross-party group of MPs have spoken out on the idea of bereavement pay, and why unmarried parents are being treated unfairly by the government in not being entitled to it.
The group are calling for government ministers to take action and extend a pledge they made to extend bereavement payments to unmarried couples. This is following a High Court ruling that found that the limited benefits of cohabitating couples could breach human rights.
Child Bereavement Network have recently estimated that one in five parents who are raising children together would be unable to claim any bereavement benefits if their partner was to die; in most cases, this is for no other reason than the fact that they were unmarried, or divorced, before the death. This is a shocking statistic, and one that our expert local family solicitors here at MG Legal believe needs to change.
Why do unmarried couples currently not receive bereavement payments?
At the current time, the government offers a benefits scheme called Bereavement Support Payment. This scheme offers money to families of a deceased husband, wife, or civil partner, for up to eighteen months after the death. The amount that is rewarded differs from family to family, but can amount to around £10,000 in total for couples that also receive child benefit.
What has already been done to instigate change?
In February of 2020, a landmark legal case found that it was violating human rights laws to refuse these payments to bereaved parents. The ruling rightly identified that children and parents, regardless of whether they had been married, needed ample support in grieving their lost one.
A similar case was passed through the Northern Ireland Supreme Court in 2018; this case found that Siobhan McLaughlin, an unmarried mother-of-four, had her human rights violated when she was refused Widowed Parent's Allowance. Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his take on the situation for the first time. He vowed to take appropriate action to ‘remedy’ the ‘injustice’ that was taking place throughout the country.
Why is further action not being taken?
Despite these bold claims to action from the Prime Minister, the situation still remains largely unchanged. Lobbyists and campaigners on the case have estimated that around 2,000 families each year are still losing out on the money that they are morally entitled to. The government is yet to make any extension of the payment scheme to include unmarried couples, despite the official Department of Work and Pensions saying that they were ‘carefully considered’ how they can implement such a change.
How can I ensure that I have the most rights possible?
Many people falsely believe that there is a status of “common law marriage” that awards cohabitants the same rights as married couples after they have lived together for a certain amount of time. This is not the case and there is no such thing in English law as a "common law" husband or wife. The fact of the matter is, that being married to your partner or being in a civil partnership gives you important legal rights over things such as property and money. As unfair as this may seem, these are rights you simply won't have if you are simply living together.
However, here at MG Legal, 'Solicitors near me', we work hard to ensure that all of our clients' can take advantage of the maximum amount of rights available to them in their specific situation. The best way to do so for unmarried couples, we advise, is to consider a cohabitation agreement. This will set out how you will deal with money, property, childcare, and anything else you wish to include. This agreement will stand not just during the relationship but, more importantly, if the relationship breaks down or one party is to pass away. A cohabitation agreement is not technically legally binding, but the Court will always take its contents into consideration should any Court application be issued.
We always take the time to talks through every potential aspect of the cohabitation agreement with any clients, and our local family law specialists can offer expert advice on what to include, such as wills, property ownership, and life insurance.
How can I contact MG Legal?
Our team can be contacted at your local office- Lancaster, Garstang or Longridge. You can also submit an enquiry online, here, and a member of the team will get in contact with you to discuss your matter.
MG Legal’s expert local solicitors for divorce and family law are available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, using the methods above.
Alternatively, for out of hours enquiries, email email@example.com and our expert member of the Family department, Sara, will be back in touch to discuss your enquiry.
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