Thousands of grieving cohabiting families with children to be made eligible for bereavement benefits

  • MPs voted on January 25 to change eligibility criteria for bereavement benefits, meaning cohabiting parents and their children will be able to get support.
  • Around 21,000 families who have previously been denied support because they weren’t married or in a civil partnership will be able to apply for retrospective payments and around 1,800 families each year will now be eligible for support.
  • Charities welcome justice for grieving children and call for Government to go further.
  • Benefits system expected to open to newly eligible claimants soon.

After a decade-long campaign by NCB’s Childhood Bereavement Network, MPs have approved the Bereavement Benefits (Remedial) Order 2022, paving the way for bereavement benefits that help bring up dependent children to be paid to cohabiting parents.

Around 1,800 parents a year currently miss out on these payments because they were living with, but not married to or in a civil partnership with their partner when they died. In addition, more than 21,000 families 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[1], this means that thousands of bereaved children have been missing out on this vital support, currently worth £9,800.

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[2], and the High Court made the same ruling in relation to the new-style Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) in February 2020[3].

After many years of delay, the Government has now introduced a Remedial Order to correct the injustice. Last Tuesday, the House of Lords approved the Order, and today the House of Commons did the same.

When it comes into force, the Remedial Order will change the criteria so that going forward, newly bereaved cohabiting parents will be able to claim on behalf of their grieving children. Families who were previously denied these benefits from 30 August 2018 onwards will also be able to claim for retrospective payments. 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.

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’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:

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, 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:

We would like to see Government proactively contacting those families who might be eligible for back payments. Failing that, it must work in partnership with the money advice and bereavement sectors to make sure that all eligible families get to hear about the changes and get high quality information about how to claim and what impact back payments will have on their 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 and social security entitlements.

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 now 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

About bereavement benefits

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

A full summary of the background is presented in the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Draft Bereavement Benefits (Remedial) Order 2022: Second Report.

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 a year who face the death of their cohabiting partner will now be able to claim Bereavement Support Payment (BSP).[4]

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.[5] We estimate these claims will be worth up to around £28,000 before tax – although most claims will be significantly smaller than this.
  • around 10,500 parents bereaved after 6 April 2017 will be able to make a retrospective claim for BSP.[6] The draft 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.[7]
    • 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, part of the National Children’s Bureau family, 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:  

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

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




[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.