Parliament inches closer to making thousands of grieving cohabiting families eligible for bereavement benefits

January 2023

After a decade-long campaign by a coalition of charities including WAY, MPs finally had the chance to debate the Bereavement Benefits Remedial Order on Tuesday (24 January), followed by a vote in the House of Commons just after 6pm on Wednesday, 25 January – this will now pave the way for bereavement benefits to be paid to thousands of cohabiting parents.

Cohabiting Couple campaign image

Around 1,800 parents a year have been missing out on these payments because they were living with but not married to or in a civil partnership with their partner when they died. Now that the Remedial Order has finally been approved, more than 21,000 families stand to be eligible for back payments going back to 30 August 2018. The benefits are based on the National Insurance (NI) contributions of the partner who died. 

The Supreme Court ruled in August 2018 that it was unlawful to deny the old-style Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA) to families where the parents had been cohabiting before one of them died. The High Court made the same ruling in relation to the new-style Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) in February 2020.

After many years of delay, the Government introduced a so-called Remedial Order to correct this injustice. On Tuesday, 17 January 2023, the House of Lords approved the Order, and yesterday a Delegated Legislation Committee in the House of Commons debated it. Today (Wednesday, 25 January) it came to the main House of Commons for final approval. 

Once implemented, the Remedial Order will change the criteria so that, going forward, newly bereaved cohabiting parents will be able to claim these payments. Under the proposals, families who were previously denied these benefits will also be able to claim for retrospective payments dated back to 30 August 2018. 

The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) estimates that up to 21,000 families could be eligible for a back payment. Charities are waiting for more details from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about how and when people can make their claims.

Over 20,000 families stand to benefit

Since 2011, WAY has been campaigning alongside a coalition of other charities on this issue, including the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN), Child Poverty Action Group and many others, to extend eligibility to cohabiting families with children. 

Alison Penny MBE, CBN’s Director, said:

“We are hugely relieved by today’s vote, which means that the campaign for justice for these vulnerable children has cleared its final hurdle. When the scheme finally opens for new claims, cohabiting families will no longer face the double hit of being refused financial support following the death of their mum or dad, simply because they weren’t married. We are pleased too that over 20,000 families who were previously denied these benefits will be eligible for back payments to 30 August 2018.

As well as providing these families with crucial financial support, these changes also send an important message to bereaved children and young people across the country that they matter, whatever their parents’ marital status. As a society, it’s vital that we support ALL bereaved children, whatever their circumstances.”

Georgia Elms, Campaign Ambassador for WAY Widowed and Young, said:

I watched the parliamentary proceedings with tears in my eyes. There have been so many setbacks over the past 12 years but to know that over 20,000 people will soon be able to benefit and WAY has helped with this change is amazing!

“We are sad that it has taken so long to get to this point. Many of the families who will now be eligible for back payments have endured years of financial hardship and lack of recognition as they waited for these changes.

We want to say a huge thank you to the brave parents who brought the cases on behalf of affected bereaved families and who shared their stories over the many years to highlight this injustice, as well as their legal teams and everyone who has signed petitions, written to their MPs and worked tirelessly over more than a decade to help make this change happen.”

About Bereavement Payments

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Find out more about the Bereavement Benefits (Remedial) Order here.

For more information on the changes, visit the Childhood Bereavement Network website.

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