Widowed parents’ allowance and non-married couples | CPAG

Widowed parents’ allowance and non-married couples

06 September 2018

Re Mclaughlin's Application [2018] UKSC 48

On 30 August 2018, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment that denying bereavement benefits to unmarried, cohabiting partners with children is incompatible with human rights law. Read the judgment here.

Re McLaughlin’s Application is a Northern Irish case, heard in the UK Supreme Court in April 2018, where the couple had been cohabiting for 23 years and had 4 children together. Ms McLaughlin challenged the lawfulness of the refusal to pay her Widowed Parents' Allowance and was successful in the Northern Irish High Court. The judge considered that the refusal to pay WPA where a couple were cohabitees was not justified because the responsibilities for the children were the same irrespective of whether a couple had been married, in a civil partnership or co-habiting. Accordingly, the refusal to pay WPA constituted unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 ECHR read with Article 8 (right to respect for family life). The decision was overturned on appeal, with the Northern Irish Court of Appeal finding that the difference of treatment between spouses/civil partners and cohabitees was justified. Ms McLaughlin appealed to the UK’s highest court and CPAG intervened to assist the Supreme Court in relation to legal arguments around children’s rights and the duty to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. The Supreme Court hearing took place on 30 April 2018, with the Court sitting for the first time in Belfast.

This case dealt only with WPA, which only applies where your partner died before 6 April 2017. New claimants would need to apply for Bereavement Support Payments. As with WPA, BSP is only available to spouses or civil partners. CPAG has issued judicial review proceedings on this matter, details of which can be found here.

In addition, despite the Supreme Court's judgment, the rules around WPA have not yet been updated, although very few people will now be affected by this.

PDF iconCPAG-Note-for-parents-on-Siobhan-McLaughlin-case.pdfCPAG-Note-for-parents-on-Siobhan-McLaughlin-case.pdf

Separately, CPAG is representing a Muslim woman with two young children who was also denied WPA following the sudden death of her partner with whom she had been through an Islamic marriage ceremony but whose marriage was not recognised in UK law. We are proceeding with this case in spite of the decision in McLoughlin, as it raises important issues regarding interpretation of legislation that does not comply with the Human Rights Act. Details of the case can be found here.