Michelle's Story

May 2023

Although Bereavement Support Payment has been extended to cohabiting couples with children, unmarried couples without children are still being denied support. WAY member Michelle shares their story…


Michelle

“My world changed one day in February four years ago when my partner of 14 years went to work and didn’t come back. I was cleaning the bathroom thinking it was odd he hadn’t messaged. Then the doorbell rang. It was the police. 

"In three sentences, the air was sucked from me and things changed forever."

I’m still slightly bemused and confused that I was ‘allowed’ to register my partner’s death, ‘allowed’ to pay for a funeral, ‘allowed’ to deal with all the other related administration and costs yet I was not entitled to any government widow support. In the early days, that money would have given me a small buffer, a breathing space to help me through those emotionally unpredictable days when I couldn’t go back to work or a little later on, when I did go back to work, to cover the days I wasn’t paid for when I couldn’t leave my bed. 

I remember helping my Mum through the administration a couple of years before when my Dad died. It was so simple – a copy of their marriage certificate and her Bereavement Support Payment was on its way. Funny how it’s so simple: no wedding certificate, no support. I did call up and speak to someone who said, ‘if you aren’t married, you won’t get anything’. But I applied anyway, only to receive a swift ‘sorry, you are not entitled’ letter. I think even back then there was talk on WAY of campaigning for change.

After a lot of back and forth, I was able to gain access to my partner’s death in service benefit, which – despite many years’ service – barely covered the funeral. Even though I was the named beneficiary, I had to prove my connection, being told at one point ‘well, we have to check. You could be anyone’.  Thinking back now, it’s an awful approach to take when dealing with the recently bereaved but I felt numb going through the motions. It made me feel a bit of a fraud, a lesser ‘widow’ – as if I wasn’t actually a real ‘widow’. 

Whilst I am happy that cohabiting couples with children have been now granted access to this payment, I feel that – yet again – those of us unmarried and without children are forgotten. Early on, several people said to me ‘it’s not like you were married’, ‘at least there are no children to deal with’, and ‘it’s only you, you’ll find someone soon’. 

"Until they have had to walk in our shoes, they will never understand the flippancy of their words."

 I appreciate that there are complexities to people wanting to cheat the system with claiming to cohabit, but no one checks that those submitting marriage certificates are living together. Some married couples don’t. Should they be more entitled than those of us living together? Should there be a timescale for cohabiting? What ‘proof’ is enough? There are so many things to think about but surely there is a way to encompass those of us who, for many reasons, in this modern world never saw a marriage certificate was needed to show we were in a committed relationship.

I can just cover my bills

My life has changed significantly. Going from having two good wages and saving towards a mortgage, nice breaks and meals out, I now have a slightly above minimum wage job and struggle every month to pay my bills. Losing my partner pre-Covid led to me being made redundant through Covid. I had to use my nest egg to support myself until it dwindled to virtually nothing before being entitled to some Universal Credit. 

Then I took on a couple of roles that I could not focus on and made me very unhappy – paying around one third of my pre-Covid salary until the current role I have, which is at a lower capacity than before and is also poorly paid. I can now just cover my bills. There is little to no money for anything else. Rising rent costs mean I may have to think about moving back in with my Mum at 46 years of age.” 

WAY is supporting a legal challenge for cohabiting couples without children. We will bring you more news as soon as we have it. Read more...

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