- Eligibility criteria for bereavement benefits have changed meaning cohabiting parents and their children will be able to get financial support.
- These families were previously denied support because the parents weren’t married or in a civil partnership.
- Around 21,000 families, some bereaved as long ago as 2001, may be eligible for a retrospective payment, potentially worth several thousands of pounds.
- Going forward, around 1,800 more grieving families each year will now be eligible for support.
- Charities welcome justice for grieving children and call for Government to go further.
- Benefits system will open to newly eligible claimants from 9 February 2023.
- Claimants will have 12 months from 9 February 2023 to submit their claim to get the full amount they are entitled to.
- If in doubt about the implications of a retrospective payment for their tax, tax credits and benefits, families should seek advice for their specific circumstances before claiming.
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that, from 9 February 2023, cohabiting parents will be able to claim bereavement benefits to help them bring up dependent children.
Around 1,800 parents a year have missed out on these payments because they were living with, but not married to or in a civil partnership with their partner when they died. Families bereaved as long ago as 2001 stand to be eligible for back payments going back to 30 August 2018. The benefits are based on National Insurance (NI) contributions of the partner who died.
Following news released by the Office of National Statistics that shows for the first time ever, more babies were born in the UK last year to parents not married or in a civil partnership , this means that thousands of bereaved children have been missing out on this vital support, currently worth £9,800.
In August 2018, the Supreme Court ruled 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, and the High Court made the same ruling in relation to the new-style Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) in February 2020. The families who brought these cases used the Human Rights Act to challenge the denial of this support to cohabiting parents. The courts found the policy was a breach of their human rights, but the rules on who is entitled to the support are set out in primary legislation and so it was for Parliament and the Government to right the wrong before families could receive any support.
Four and a half years after the Supreme Court judgment, the Government introduced a Remedial Order to correct the injustice. The Remedial Order comes into force from 9 February and changes the criteria so that, going forward, newly bereaved cohabiting parents can claim on behalf of their grieving children.
Families who were previously unable to claim these benefits, some of them bereaved as long ago as 2001, will also be able to make a new claim for retrospective payments if they were still eligible on or after 30 August 2018. The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) estimates that this could be up to 21,000 families.
The situation for people making a retrospective claim for Widowed Parent’s Allowance is complex. Charities are waiting for further guidance from Government about how back payments will interact with previous and future tax, benefits and tax credits. As there is a 12-month window, families may want to delay making a retrospective application until they have all the information they need, seeking independent welfare benefits advice for their specific circumstances before making a claim.
Since 2011, The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) has coordinated a campaign with other charities including WAY Widowed and Young, Child Poverty Action Group, Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, Quaker Social Action and many others, to extend eligibility to cohabiting families with children.
Alison Penny MBE, CBN Director said:
After such a long campaign, it is almost incredible that we are finally at the stage of cohabiting families being able to claim this benefit. They will no longer face the double blow 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 bereaved as far back as 2001 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:
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.
Siobhan McLaughlin, who successfully challenged the denial of bereavement benefits following the death of John, her partner of 23 years, leading to a landmark judgment at the Supreme Court, said:
I am delighted beyond my wildest dreams that the Government has finally taken the steps needed to right this injustice and am so proud of everyone who played a role in making that happen.
We all played our part for all of those children who have had the misfortune to have lost a parent and who weren’t able to claim support for all those years. Hopefully, we have made life a little easier for thousands of bereaved families. And I will be able to look my four children in the eye and say, ‘I tried to ease your hurt’.
Reaching eligible families with news of the changes will be crucial. Those eligible for a back payment will have a 12-month window within which to get the full amount they are entitled to.
Claire Hall, solicitor at Child Poverty Action Group, said:
In recognition of the length of time it has taken for these welcome changes to be introduced since the courts first recognised this breach of families’ rights, we would like to see Government using data it holds to identify those who may be eligible for payments and proactively contacting those families, alongside a communications campaign to make sure that all eligible families hear about the changes.
It is essential that high-quality information is provided about how to claim and what impact back payments may have on families’ wider financial position. Government must be particularly clear in communications to those whose back payments of Widowed Parent’s Allowance will have implications for their tax, tax credits and social security benefits. If in doubt, people should seek advice to understand how it applies in their individual circumstances before claiming.
Charities had called on Government to make retrospective payments to families bereaved earlier than 30 August 2018. Under the Remedial Order, families bereaved before that date will not get the same amount as their counterparts in a legal union. Charities are calling on Government to set up an ex-gratia payment scheme to provide a further, proper remedy to these families.
Charities are also concerned that the Remedial Order will not address the wider ongoing shortcomings of bereavement benefits:
- Since it was introduced on 6 April 2017, Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) has not been included among the benefits that are uprated each year in line with inflation and has remained frozen. That means it has fallen in value by 18.7%.
- BSP is only paid for 18 months, meaning that 91% of families are supported for a shorter time than they would have been under the old-style Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA) which was paid for as long as the family qualified for Child Benefit, with a median claim of 5 to 6 years. Charities will continue to campaign on these issues.
Notes for editors
For further information, contact
- Vicky Anning, Communications Manager, WAY Widowed and Young [email protected]
- Alison Penny, Director, Childhood Bereavement Network
- Jane Ahrends, Press Officer, Child Poverty Action Group
About bereavement benefits
For more information, see the DWP press release
The scheme will open on 9 February 2023 at https://www.gov.uk/bereavement-support-payment
For more information on the changes, visit the Childhood Bereavement Network website
WAY Widowed and Young also has more background information here
Who will benefit from the changes?
The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates that under the Remedial Order, going forward around 1,800 additional parents and carers a year who face the death of their cohabiting partner will now be able to claim Bereavement Support Payment (BSP).
Additionally, three groups will be eligible for retrospective payments. Provided they claim within a 12-month window, we estimate that:
- around 10,200 parents bereaved before 6 April 2017 will be able to make a retrospective claim for Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA) back to 30 August 2018.
- around 10,500 parents bereaved after 6 April 2017 will be able to make a retrospective claim for BSP. The RO is complex but we understand that:
- for the approx. 2,000 bereaved between 6 April 2017 and 30 August 2018, these claims will be for £350 x the number of months they would have been eligible from 30 August 2018 onwards.
- for the approx. 8,500 bereaved after 30 August 2018, these claims will be for £9,800.
About the Childhood Bereavement Network
The Childhood Bereavement Network, based at the National Children’s Bureau, is the coordinating hub for services across the UK that offer direct support to children and young people who have been bereaved of a parent or sibling. For more information visit: www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk
About WAY Widowed and Young
WAY Widowed and Young is a UK charity that offers a peer-to-peer support network for anyone who’s lost a partner before their 51st birthday – married or not, with or without children, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender, race and religion.
Founded just over 25 years ago, WAY now has more than 4,600 members across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For more information, visit www.widowedandyoung.org.uk
About the Child Poverty Action Group
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) works on behalf of the more than one in four children in the UK growing up in poverty. The charity uses its understanding of what causes poverty and the impact it has on children’s lives to campaign for policies that will prevent and solve poverty – for good. It provides training, advice and information to make sure hard-up families get the financial support they need and carries out high-profile legal work to establish and protect families’ rights.
More information at www.cpag.org.uk
 Around 30,000 parents successfully claimed Higher Rate BSP over the 60 months since it was introduced in April 2017: around 6,000 per year. DWP estimates only around 84% of people eligible for BSP claimed it. 6,000 / 84% x 100% = 7,143. Around 20% of couple families with dependent children are cohabiting, 80% are married or in a civil partnership (ONS, 2022). 7,143 / 80% * 20% = 1,786 per year.
 The caseload of parents claiming Widowed Parent’s Allowance in August 2018 was 34,254. (((34,254 / 84%) x 100%) / 80%) x 20% = 10,195.
 Assuming the RO comes into force in February 2023, this will be 5.92 years since BSP was introduced in April 2017. 5.92 x 1,786 = 10,567.
 Claims must be made within 12 months of the RO coming into force to receive retrospective payment of WPA or retrospective payment of the full amount of BSP that is owing.