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Bereaved cohabitees not entitled to spousal bereavement benefits even if they had children

An Application by Siobhan McLaughlin for Judicial Review [2016] NICA 53

In our March 2016 update, we reported that the High Court had found that the denial of bereavement benefits to a mother on the ground she was not married to her partner at his date of death, and where children were impacted, was unlawful.  The DSD appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

The applicant lived with her partner for 23 years and they had four children together.  On the death of her partner, the DSD refused to provide Bereavement Benefit and Widowed Parent’s Allowance solely because of the fact that she and the deceased had neither been married nor in a civil partnership.

The High Court decided that refusal of payment is justified where the sole beneficiary of the benefit claimed is the cohabiting partner of the deceased but should not be refused where the purpose is to ease the financial burden on a family following death of a parent.  It found that the DSD’s decision unlawfully discriminated against the applicant on the grounds of her marital status.  Therefore she was entitled to Widowed Parent’s Allowance but was not entitled to Bereavement Benefit.

The DSD appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal which overturned the decision of the High Court finding that,

the relationship of an unmarried cohabitee is not analogous with that of a spouse or civil partner in the context of Widowed Parent’s Allowance; the different treatment of cohabitees and spouses/ civil partners in that context is justified; there is no violation of Article 8 read with Article 14 and the treatment of the children is not on the ground of their birth status.’

The Court of Appeal felt that it was not for the Courts to determine the policy in this area and the matter fell within the remit of Parliament.

Read Irish Legal News article here.

Family Law, Social Security