Bereavement Support Payment3 Feb 2023 | Eloise Mears
What are Bereavement Support Payments?
- Bereavement Support Payments are a benefit historically only available to parents whose husband, wife or civil partner died in the previous 21 months.
- The current level of the statutory Bereavement Support Payments in England and Wales is £15,120
- Recent changes in the law mean unmarried parents can now claim Bereavement Support Payment
- Bereavement Support Payments replace Bereavement Allowance (previously Widow’s Pension), Bereavement Payments, and Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
Who is eligible for bereavement support payments?
- paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in one tax year since 6 April 1975
- died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work
When they died the benefit claimant must have been:
- under State Pension age
- living in the UK or a country that pays bereavement benefits
How much will you receive?
If you were married or in a civil partnership with the person who died
If you were getting (or were entitled to) Child Benefits when your partner died, you’ll get the higher rate.
This is made up of:
- a first payment of £3,500
- up to 18 monthly payments of £350
If you were not entitled to Child Benefit, you’ll get the lower rate unless you were pregnant when your partner died.
This is made up of:
- a first payment of £2,500
- up to 18 monthly payments of £100
You must claim within 12 months of your partner’s death to get the first payment. If you claim after this time, you will only get monthly payments.
Unmarried parents can now claim Bereavement Support Payment
In 2018, the Supreme Court considered a case in which a bereaved parent was unable to claim a Bereavement Support Payment after her partner she had cohabited with for 23 years died. It was decided that she was entitled to receive a back payment of £10,000, an enormous help through such a difficult time. Although this ruling did not change the law, it put pressure on ministers to change the rules on entitlement to bereavement benefits. This week parliament has approved payments for unmarried parents who lose a partner, provided they are under pension age.
This will mean that cohabiting parents could get up to 18 monthly payments following the loss of their partner. This may also apply in retrospect for those who have lost loved ones prior to the change in the law.
You’ll get a first payment of £3,500 and then up to 18 monthly payments of £350.
You may get fewer payments if:
- your partner died after 9 February 2023 and you claim more than 3 months after your partner’s death
- your partner died before 30 August 2018
Legislative change regarding Bereavement Support Payments
The decision follows a 2018 judgment by the Court of Appeal in Jacqueline Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Secretary of State for Justice in which the court determined that cohabiting partners who have been in a relationship for more than 2 years should be entitled to bereavement damages under Section 1A of The Fatal Accidents Act 1976; which now amounts to an award (alas still pitifully low) of £15,120 for bereaved partners who lost their loved one on or after 1 May 2020.
In the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Ors (Rev 2)  EWCA Civ 1916, the Court of Appeal held that the current law on bereavement damages was incompatible with Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Claimant, Ms Smith, had argued that Section 1A(2)(a) of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, which allows a claim for bereavement damages for the benefit of married couples or civil partners, but not unmarried cohabiting couples, discriminated against her as an unmarried person. As such, Ms Smith argued that the provision was incompatible with her Convention rights. The decision of the Court of Appeal (Ms Smith’s claim having been previously dismissed by the High Court in 2016) was hailed as a historic one and Ms Smith’s lawyer called for Parliament to change the law and “bring bereavement legislation into the 21st century” in the aftermath of the judgment.
In order to bring the decision of the court into practical effect, legislative change was required. Finally, on 8 May 2019, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced a proposed Remedial Order providing for the award of bereavement damages under Section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 to be available to a person who has cohabited with the deceased person for a period of at least two years immediately prior to the death. The Remedial Order also provides that where both a qualifying cohabitant and a spouse are eligible (for example where the deceased was still married and not yet divorced or separated but had been in a new cohabiting relationship for at least two years) the award will be divided equally between the two eligible claimants.
These benefit changes are long overdue. Times are changing; figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm that the number of cohabiting families has increased by 22.9% over the last decade.
More Change Needed
Whilst the above changes have been welcomed, it is clear that the law on bereavement damages as it currently stands in England and Wales is unfair and lags behind that of other advanced jurisdictions.
The current level of the statutory Bereavement Support Payments in England and Wales is £15,120, a figure that shocks relatives of many people who have been involved in a fatal accident caused by someone else’s wrongdoing. By comparison, in Scotland, there are no fixed statutory limits on the amount payable, with cases considered on their own individual merits. Past awards in Scotland include sums of £80,000 for widows, £35,000 for adult children, £30,000 for siblings up to £86,000 for parents and between £2,500-£18,000 for grandchildren. Whilst no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a loved one, the figure as it stands in England and Wales seems woefully low.
There have been numerous calls in recent years for legislative change to increase the amount of the bereavement award in England and Wales however to date the figure remains at £15,120. A survey by APIL found that a majority of people thought that bereavement damages should be more than £100,000 while three-quarters of people also supported levels of awards being set on a case-by-case basis.
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