Over the last two decades, the number of reported unmarried couples, also known as cohabitants, have been said to have doubled. In the UK alone, there is reported to be 3.3 million people who are in cohabiting relationships.
With cohabitation being on the rise now more than ever and with the recent article of Ms McLaughlin in the news about a widowed woman with four children being denied the right to Widows Allowance, this raises questions as to whether or not it is right for cohabitees with dependent children to be denied the right to bereavement allowance. According to the courts’ justices, it is not!
Ms Siobhan McLaughlin was denied a bereavement payment and widowed parent’s allowance, as she was not a surviving spouse, after the death of her partner, John Adams who died from cancer in January 2014. The couple lived together for 23 years and had four children aged 19, 17, 13 and 11. After being refused the allowance, Ms McLaughlin was forced to take an evening job and argued that the current eligibility rules for receiving bereavement benefits discriminated against her children, simply because they were born out of wedlock.
In the past, the widowed parent’s allowance could only be claimed by men and women with dependent children, if they were either married or in a civil partnership. This was successfully challenged by Ms McLaughlin and resulted in a landmark Supreme Court judgement which ruled that denying widowed parent’s allowance to an unmarried mother is illegal and breached her human rights.
The President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale in her recent judgement said “the allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. These needs and more importantly their children’s needs are the same.” She was also clear in her judgement that the decision reached was on the very specific facts of the McLaughlin’s case.
As the number of couples who cohabit in England and Wales is on the rise, the Supreme Court’s decision will mean that the government is now faced with more pressure to review the policies and decide how the law, relating to unmarried couples should be changed. This could have significant implications for the way cohabiting couples are treated in the future! Only time will tell if the government will be able to bring certainty to an already complicated and misinterpreted area of law.
If you would like expert advice about your rights and entitlements as a cohabitee, please do not hesitate to contact Ms Farah Naz in our Family Department on 01702 443 480 who will be happy to assist you with your query.