Thousands more bereaved families should benefit from vital financial support

Thousands more bereaved families expected to get vital financial support thanks to change in government eligibility rules

Thousands more bereaved families are expected to receive vital financial support through a change in government eligibility rules.

When a person dies, their family is often entitled to bereavement support to help them through these difficult first months.

Under the current system, the money is only paid to families where the deceased was married or in a civil partnership. However, eligibility will be extended next year to unmarried cohabiting couples following a Supreme Court ruling. More than 22,000 additional families will then be able to claim the aid, for a total of £ 320 million over the next five years.

Support: Laura with her late partner Nigel and their son Noah, a year before the happy dad passed away


Laura Rudd’s world fell apart in March of last year, when her partner Nigel died suddenly at the age of 50 while jogging. The couple had been together for nine years and had a son, Noah, now four. But because they weren’t married, Laura was denied financial support.

Government changes will mean Laura, 35, is expected to receive backdated bereavement support payments of just under £ 10,000. However, it could still be months before she receives the money.

“The difference money could make for me as a single parent is phenomenal,” says Laura. “When you lose your partner, even if you feel like it, the world doesn’t stop – there are still bills to pay.

“Suddenly you are responsible for everything – the mortgage, the council tax, keeping a roof over your heads. A basic funeral also costs around £ 3,500.

Laura, who is a professor of psychology at Wilberfoss, near York, adds: “I have spoken to people who not only lose their partner, but also their home.

“I see the damage this causes to families and how much physical and mental health can suffer. I look forward to using child support to secure my son’s future. ‘

What support is available – and how to claim it

Surviving spouses can apply for bereavement support up to £ 9,800 for 18 months following the death of their partner.

It can be a lifeline for families affected by the loss of a partner or parent. They are likely to face declining household income, additional childcare costs and funeral costs.

To be eligible, the bereaved must have reached the legal retirement age at the time of the death of their partner.

The partner must have paid national insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in a fiscal year since 1975 or be deceased as a result of an accident at work or a disease caused by work.

Grieving spouses receive £ 2,500 plus £ 100 per month for 18 months, or if they are entitled to child benefit, they receive £ 3,500 plus £ 350 for 18 months.

Currently, payments are still only made to families where the couple was married or in a civil partnership. However, with next year’s changes, down payments will be made as a lump sum until August 30, 2018.

Bereavement assistance payments, introduced in 2017, replaced the more generous Widower’s Allowance, which had been in place since 2001.

Under the previous regime, young families who lost a parent could apply for child support until the children were 18 years old. Some families still receive these payments.

To request help, you can contact the bereavement assistance service on 0800 731 0469.

Why the government is making changes now

In 2018, a mother of four won a major death benefit court case, forcing the government to rethink. Siobhan McLaughlin had been living with his partner John Adams for 23 years when he passed away in 2014. They had four children together.

McLaughlin of County Antrim was denied Widowed Parent’s Allowance because they were not married. She successfully challenged the Supreme Court ruling, which ruled that the denial of the allowance was inconsistent with human rights law.

In 2020, the High Court also ruled that denying the new type of bereavement support payment to two grieving single fathers and their children was equally inconsistent.

The government finally announced in July that it was amending the legislation to change the eligibility criteria. However, the amendments have to be approved by Parliament, which could take months. There is still some uncertainty as to who will receive the full entitlement.

The WAY Widowed and Young charity is calling on the government to ensure that retrospective payments are made to everyone who would have been eligible had they been married, whether under the new system of support payments in case bereavement or the former widowed parent’s allowance.

Georgia Elms, ambassador for the charity, adds: “It is unfortunate that it has taken so long for the government to respond to court rulings and that thousands of bereaved parents and their children have lost the financial support they had. so badly needed during this moment. ‘

Why support is essential for families

Bereavement benefits are paid out of the national insurance contributions of the deceased. The deceased may have paid tens of thousands of pounds in contributions to a state pension that they will never be able to claim.

Instead, some of that money goes to their kids or partner when they need it most.

The payments help widows raising children with a sudden drop in family income, or help families find money for immediate costs after the death of a loved one. Widows or widowers who are raising young children may also want to take time off work to care for their children, or may not feel strong enough to immediately return to work. Those who do are likely to face higher child care costs.

Do unmarried couples have the same rights?

Almost half of people in England and Wales mistakenly believe that unmarried couples who live together have a common-law marriage and enjoy the same rights as legally married couples, according to the National Center for Social Research.

In reality, de facto marriage is a status that the law does not recognize. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that a child should not be treated any differently because of the marital status of its parents – a situation over which a child has no control.


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