Unmarried Mother Wins Right to Claim Widowed Parent's Allowance

Siobhan McLaughlin, 46, won a Supreme Court battle to access widowed parent’s allowance for her bereaved four children.

Sadly her partner of 23 years and father to their four children had passed away in January 2014. Following his death she was told she was not entitled to bereavement payment or widowed parent’s allowance because they were not married. As they were only cohabiting she was not entitled to claim such benefits.

What Benefits Exist and Who is Entitled?

There are three payments available to the partners of those who pass away at a young age:

  • •    a bereavement support payment;
  • •    a widowed parent’s allowance; and
  • •    a bereavement allowance.

They are paid for from the National Insurance contributions of the person who has passed away. The deceased may have paid significant sums of monies over their lifetime in National Insurance contributions, which would have gone towards qualifying for a pension in old age. If they die, some of those monies paid by the deceased are paid to their partner for their and their children’s benefit. Currently the DWP distinguishes between those parents who were married and those who were not. The latter not being entitled to make such claims.

Court’s Decision/Judgment and Potential Impact

The court declared the government’s refusal to pay the said benefits to Ms McLaughlin breached the family’s human rights and that the current law on the allowance is 'incompatible' with human rights legislation.

President Lady Hale said: ‘The allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married to, or in a civil partnership, with one another. The purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent.’

‘It is difficult indeed to see the justification for denying people and their children benefits, or paying them at a lower rate of benefit, simply because the adults are not married to one another. Their needs, and more importantly their children’s needs, are the same.’

The court also said it is up to the Government to decide whether or how to change the law; however, its decision in this case will certainly put pressure on the government to revisit its policy and consider changing the same.