Bereavement benefits: thousands more grieving families able to access £9,800 in back payments

Bereavement benefits have been extended to apply to unmarried couples with dependent children who lost their spouse from tomorrow, opening up the payment to thousands more families.

From 9 February, the eligibility criteria for Bereavement Support Payment and Widowed Parent’s Allowance have been extended to include cohabiting parents, not just married couples. The benefits are intended to help parents with the financial impact of losing a partner.

It means that more children who lose a parent will be equally supported, no matter the legal relationship status of their parents.

It comes almost five years after Siobhan McLaughlin, from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, won her case to claim the benefit after her partner – with whom she lived for 23 years but never married – died, leaving her to care for their two children.

As they were unmarried when her partner died, she was not able to claim the benefit. But the UK Supreme Court ruled this was incompatible with human rights law.

Ms McLaughlin said that she was “delighted beyond my wildest dreams” that the government had taken steps to make the law fairer.

“We all played our part for all of those children who have had the misfortune to have lost a parent and who weren’t able to claim support for all those years,” she added. “Hopefully, we have made life a little easier for thousands of bereaved families.”

It is thought that tens of thousands of unmarried parents who are under pension age could claim bereavement benefits dating back to August 2018, the date of the original Supreme Court ruling.

Those who are eligible for the duration could claim up to £9,800, if their partner died before the law was changed.

Alison Penny, director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, estimated that some 21,000 families could be in line for a retrospective payment, and that the benefit would help around 1,800 people each year.

“As well as providing these families with crucial financial support, these changes also send an important message to bereaved children and young people across the country that they matter, whatever their parents’ marital status,” she added.

“As a society, it’s vital that we support all bereaved children, whatever their circumstances.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister Viscount Younger of Leckie said he hoped that the change will benefit more bereaved parents.

“It has been our priority to get this legislation right, so it is fairer to bereaved children with parents who were not married or in a civil partnership, and I am very pleased this is now confirmed in law,” he added.

Mims Davies MP, government minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression, added: “I would urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to make an application, as crucially, some bereaved parents will also be able to receive backdated payments to ensure they don’t miss out.”

How to apply

Claims for Bereavement Support Payment can be made online via, over the phone or through a paper application form. Claims for Widowed Parent’s Allowance will be processed by paper.

These claims must be made within 21 months of your spouse or partner’s death, and you must claim within 3 months of your partner’s death to get the full amount.

You could be eligible if your partner either:

  • paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in one tax year since 6 April 1975
  • died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work

When they died you must have been:

You cannot claim Bereavement Support Payment if you’re in prison.

To qualify, claimants must have met the eligibility criteria for either Bereavement Support Payment or Widowed Parent’s Allowance on or after 30 August 2018.

This means those who lost their partner before 6 April 2017 might be able to receive the legacy benefit Widowed Parent’s Allowance, should they be found to have been eligible for this on 30 August 2018.

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