Elanor shares her story to support our Cohabiting Couples Campaign

February 2023

Elanor’s partner Robin died in 2005 after a motorbike accident. She was pregnant with their only daughter Sophie when Robin died and has struggled for the past 17 years to bring up Sophie as a lone parent, without any financial support. 

If Elanor had been married to Robin, she would have received Widowed Parent’s Allowance based on Robin’s National Insurance contributions, potentially until Sophie finished full time education.

Read Elanor's diary as she goes through the application process.

Elanor and Robin

Elanor will be sharing a diary of the process now that the system is live to apply for the Widowed Parent’s Allowance she would have received when Sophie was born, if she and Robin had been married.

This is Elanor’s story…

I was widowed on 7 October 2005, 18 days before our only child was born. I had been with Robin for over 14 years. We met in sixth form college, got together a couple of years later and lasted through me going away to university. Then I was back and started work and we moved in together.  

Robin didn’t believe in marriage after his parents’ painful divorce so we didn’t go down that road, although I liked to think that one day we would have. We were certainly committed to each other – through our long friendship, love, and then by a mortgage and shared accounts. 

Robin died after a motorbike crash caused by a woman stepping into the road in front of him causing him to swerve to avoid her. He crashed into an oncoming post office van. The woman was never found and the inquest ruled accidental death. Giving birth and bringing up our daughter alone has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do – next to saying goodbye to Robin.

When did you first realise that you wouldn’t be entitled to Widowed Parent’s Allowance because you weren’t married?

I wasn’t told about any benefits or guided to claim anything so I didn’t even know about Widowed Parent’s Allowance until much later, probably after I joined WAY and saw other members discussing it.  

When I did join WAY in 2012 and heard about this benefit, it made me even more sad that Robin hadn’t wanted to get married. No one expects to die at 33 when there’s no underlying illness so we hadn’t even thought about those implications, but I had wanted to marry and so all those feelings were brought to the fore.  

I was angry too – and about the fact I hadn’t been able to add his name as father on our daughter’s birth certificate. But I didn’t know what I could do about it. I couldn’t afford legal support to get things changed and, through conversations with WAYers, I heard about how unlikely the law was to change at that point – it seemed futile.  

It wasn’t until I heard about Siobhan McLaughlin’s court case that I started to hope things might change. I heard her talk at WAY’s Southampton AGM in 2019 and this filled me with more hope – only to wane as the Government seemed to completely ignore the result. Read Siobhan’s story here.

"Now the Remedial Order has finally passed through parliament I feel hope once again that, although I will never get all the payments I was due, I should get something to help me and my daughter going forward."

How do you feel about the change in legislation to extend payments to cohabiting parents who weren’t married?

It was so incredible to see, after all these years, that unmarried widowed people will now be able to claim a benefit that was denied to us until now. I must have played the clip of the order going through Parliament 10 times or more just to make sure it was real! I was quite choked with emotion watching history in the making.

Elanor and her daughter

I think the work that has been done to achieve this is amazing and I wish I had been able to contribute more to get us here. The system is completely stacked against people who choose to not marry – and any children don’t get a say in that. 

Any payments that come to me will be made based on Robin’s National Insurance contributions that won’t be needed for his pension – so it’s only right that this would go to his child. Why on earth it matters if we were married or not is beyond me. We were in a proper loving relationship with a home together and had made the conscious decision to have a child. 

People need to stop being shamed for choosing to not marry. They have reasons and it doesn’t change the love they share for their partner. And it certainly isn’t the child’s fault – they should not be punished for their parents’ choices or misfortune.

How will the back payment and ongoing payments help you and Sophie?

I am not sure exactly how much I will be due but Robin had worked for many years and paid his National Insurance contributions so I guess it would have been a decent monthly amount. I feel hopeful but conflicted.  

I’m not earning loads now as I work part time. My daughter is now 17 and we will have missed about 13 years of these payments until August 2018, but anything I receive now will be used wisely for her future and some regular needs until the payments stop, which won’t be long as she will be 18 this October!  

The payments would have made such a difference over her childhood, but even the small amount now will be gratefully received and I will be thanking all those who have fought for the changes any time I get anything.

Do you have any other advice for people who find themselves in your situation?

I was naive and also bereaved so didn’t think to ask what I was entitled to receive in the way of support. My advice would be to always question everything. We can’t always prepare for every situation life throws at us, but we should be able to rely on the welfare state to catch us when we fall. Isn’t that what it’s there for?  

Speak up. Ask for what is due, and join with others to fight for your rights. WAY has been a brilliant support in all of this and the campaigning has made a very real difference. The Government isn't going to offer up money easily though, so make sure to find out what you are entitled to and apply for it as soon as possible!

Visit our campaign pages to find out more about when and how you can apply for Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payments, which replaced the old system in April 2017.

You can also read Elanor's diary as she goes through the application process here

Read more stories from the campaign