What is the Cohabiting Couples Campaign?

Woman and child walking away over autumnal leaves

Annie Lovett Photography

WAY first became involved with this campaign back in 2011, when Georgia Elms had just become Chair of WAY and was asked to contribute to a Government consultation on changes to the bereavement support system. 

From the start, Georgia was adamant that any bereavement payments should be extended to cohabiting couples, who were not entitled to any support if they weren’t married or in a civil partnership, but she was repeatedly told by politicians and officials that this wouldn’t happen. 

Georgia and WAY’s Communications Manager Vicky Anning didn’t take no for an answer and worked hard, alongside other charities including the Childhood Bereavement Network, to shine the spotlight on this injustice over the years, alongside many other WAY members who signed petitions, shared their stories in the media and wrote to their MPs.

However, it took a legal challenge from Siobhan McLaughlin at the High Court in 2016 and then in the Supreme Court in 2018 to force the Government to finally take action to extend payments to cohabiting couples. Siobhan’s lawyers argued that denying bereaved children support on the basis of their parents’ marital status contravened human rights law – and the judges agreed. 

Read Siobhan's story

Challenging injustice

In the meantime, in spite of many protests from WAY and our members, the Government had introduced a new bereavement support system on 6 April 2017 – moving away from the more generous Widowed Parent’s Allowance to the new Bereavement Support Payment, which is only paid to bereaved spouses for 18 months. 

Once again, payments were not available to anyone who wasn’t married or in a civil partnership – in spite of claims that the Government was “modernising” the system.

In June 2019, WAY members gave evidence before the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which led to a very supportive report penned by then committee Chair Frank Field. 

Two years after Siobhan’s landmark judgment, the Government had still not revised the legislation, which is when the Child Poverty Action Group brought a new legal case on behalf of two bereaved dads (Jackson and Simpson), which was successful at the High Court in February 2020.

In early 2020, WAY member Laura also gathered more than 100,000 signatures for a petition on cohabiting couples after her partner Nigel died suddenly of a heart attack in February 2020. 

Read Laura’s story 

However, it still took another two years before the Government finally introduced the so-called Bereavement Benefits Remedial Order to Parliament to help rectify the situation. After that, it took another year for the Remedial Order to be debated and voted through the House of Commons and House of Lords. It finally was passed by MPs on 25 January 2023. 

On 8 February 2023, the Minister signed the Remedial Order and on 9 February 2023, people were able to start submitting their claims. They had a one year window to do so. Retrospective payments for Widowed Parent’s Allowance closed at midnight on 8 February 2024 (for parents bereaved before 6 April 2017). However, if you were bereaved after that date, you may still receive some retrospective payments if you apply by 8 November 2024.

How to claim

Claims for Bereavement Support Payment can be made online via gov.uk, over the phone or through a paper application form.

Claims for Widowed Parent’s Allowance are now closed.

Paper applications can be downloaded from gov.uk or requested over the Bereavement Service helpline.

More information

Read our members’ stories.

Read some of the media coverage and previous stories here 

Find FAQs here

Find out how to apply

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On 1 February 2023, an Upper Tribunal ruled that excluding cohabitees without children from bereavement benefit was not incompatible with their human rights.

WAY is supporting this case, which was originally brought by Hackney Community Law Centre. A new legal team is currently considering the next steps and we will bring more information as soon as we have it.

Read more here...