Siobhan's Story: Cohabiting Couples Campaign

February 2023

Siobhan McLaughlin had been living with her partner John for 23 years when he died from cancer in 2014. Their children were 19, 17, 13 and 11 at the time. 

Siobhan, Laura and Georgia outside the Supreme Court

When she discovered through conversations with Citizen’s Advice that parents who were not married or in a civil partnership were unable to claim the support available at that time to married parents – Widowed Parent’s Allowance – Siobhan was stunned. She had to take on three jobs to support her family. 

“They lost their daddy, but then they also lost out because I had to go out more to work,” Siobhan told the BBC.

“Had I been able to work one job, then I still would have been there for them coming in from school with the dinner ready for them – but that just went,” she said.

With the help of Citizen’s Advice, Siobhan decided to challenge the existing law. She didn’t do it for herself, she said, but for the children of other unmarried parents who have lost a mother or father.

“It was always on principle, to have our children recognised as being as important as every child, being born into wedlock or not,” she said.

Siobhan’s case went first to the High Court and then all the way to the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – which ruled on 30 August 2018, in a landmark case, that denying support to unmarried parents breached human rights law. Since then Widowed Parent’s Allowance was changed to Bereavement Support Payment in April 2017, but unmarried parents were still not eligible.

So how does it feel for Siobhan, knowing the role she has played in making sure thousands of bereaved families will now receive the support they’re entitled to?

“I am so proud,” she said. “From that initial conversation with Citizen’s Advice, when I was absolutely stunned to realise that my children were being treated differently just because I wasn’t married to their father, I was then so incredibly lucky to meet a wonderful team who knew the process, who could help me and who helped to change this!”

“At no point did I ever think we would win. But someone had to make the first step. I am delighted beyond my wildest dreams that we did and I am so proud of my legal team and anyone who had any input. I just wish it has happened sooner and that the Government had not stringed it out for so long.” 

“I was definitely not on my own – there was a team of people who helped to fix this, including Vicky and Georgia at WAY and Alison at the Childhood Bereavement Network. I couldn’t have done it without all of them.”

Read the story of Laura Banks from Siobhan's legal team here

“We all played our part for all of those children that are unfortunate enough to have lost a parent. Hopefully, at least financially we have made home life a little easier for them. And I will be able to look my four children in the eye and say, ‘I tried to ease your hurt’.” 

Although Siobhan may not have received all the payments she would have been entitled to if the law had been different when John first died, she should have been eligible to receive some back payments, dating back to 30 August 2018 – the date of her Supreme Court victory.

Laura, Siobhan and Vicky at the AGM in 2019

Siobhan – on right, pictured with Laura Banks from her legal team (left) and WAY’s Communications Manager Vicky Anning (centre).

In recognition of her campaign work, Siobhan was made a lifetime member of WAY Widowed and Young at our AGM in Southampton in March 2019.