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Law Centre NI case central to wider change: successful outcome for bereavement benefit case in England and Wales

Drawing on the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal’s decision in the Law Centre’s case (O’Donnell v Department for Communities), the Court of Appeal of England and Wales has found that the refusal of Bereavement Support Payment to the family of a woman who was unable to work was unlawful.

Law Centre NI is delighted to learn of the successful outcome in a recent Public Law Project case for their client, Daniel Jwanczuk, who was denied Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) after the death of his wife Suzzi in circumstances similar to our O’Donnell case.

Mr. Jwanczuk’s case

Mr. Jwanczuk’s wife, Suzzi, suffered from a hereditary muscle condition that caused severe physical health problems and rendered her unable to work.  Following her death in November 2020, Mr. Jwanczuk applied for BSP to help him cope with the financial impact of losing his wife.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) refused Mr. Jwanczuk’s application. The reason given was that his wife did not pay enough National Insurance contributions during her lifetime. Mrs. Jwanczuk had serious disabilities which meant she was unable to work and therefore unable to pay National Insurance contributions.

Mr. O’Donnell’s case

The circumstances were very similar to a successful Law Centre NI case in 2020.  Like Mr. Jwanczuk, our client, Michael O’Donnell, applied for BSP following the death of his wife, Pauline.  Pauline had been unable to work during her lifetime because of serious illness.  When Mr O’Donnell’s application for BSP was refused, Law Centre NI challenged the decision before the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.  The Court found the refusal of BSP was unlawful.  The successful result in the O’Donnell case, was relied upon in the Jwanczuk case to achieve the same outcome.

What’s the impact?

For both Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Jwanczuk the award of Bereavement Support Payment at the right time would have gone a long way to helping their families at a really difficult period in their lives.

Their legal challenges have highlighted the urgent need for reform of bereavement benefits and now, after this positive result, people in similar circumstances to Mr. Jwanczuk and Mr. O’Donnell will find it easier to access vital bereavement support following the death of a spouse – not just in Northern Ireland, but also now in England and Wales.

Ursula O’Hare, Director of Law Centre NI, said: “Congratulations to the Public Law Project for their success in this important case.  This is what law centres, and the not-for-profit legal sector are about: not only do we work to change the lives of our clients and their families, but to influence wider change to the law so that everyone experiencing the same injustice benefits.”