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27/09/2022

Law Centre NI challenges denial of vital bereavement support benefit.

A Law Centre NI client has been granted leave in the High Court to seek a judicial review of a decision not to award her financial support following the death of her partner because they were unmarried.

Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) provides vital help to families faced with the financial strain that so often arises following the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one.  Law Centre’s client – who has been granted anonymity – is challenging the law that requires a person claiming BSP to have been married or in a civil partnership with the deceased prior to their death.

This is not the first case to challenge the law on how benefits are applied to unmarried people.  In 2018 a woman from Northern Ireland, Siobhan McLaughlin, who was unmarried, won a landmark legal case in the Supreme Court after being refused access to a Widowed Parent’s Allowance on the basis that she was not married.  The Supreme Court ruled that the policy was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the years since the McLaughlin decision, the legislation has not yet been amended which would allow access to bereavement benefits for surviving unmarried parents.  A Remedial Order, which would remedy this injustice, is still passing through Westminster, however the implementation is not anticipated before January or February 2023 at the earliest.

Law Centre NI is arguing that the Northern Ireland legislation should be read in a human rights compliant manner and that interim relief in the form of a payment should be made to our client.

Speaking after the High Court granted leave in the case, Law Centre NI’s Head of Social Security, Owen McCloskey, said:

“Bereavement Support Payment is designed to provide financial help for families to deal with the immediate costs following the loss of a parent in the family.  In the midst of a cost of living crisis, our client is being denied this vital assistance now, when it is needed most.

There is no dispute that the decision unlawfully discriminates against our client and we are seeking to resolve this issue as quickly as possible so she can get the support she so urgently needs.”  

Notes

  • The case is known as JR 228.
  • The remedial order can be accessed here.
  • For more information on the entitlement of cohabitees to Bereavement Support Payment after the death of their partner, read our Legal Information Briefing.