Supreme Court judgement due on rights of bereaved cohabitants

The Supreme Court is to rule on Thursday 30 August 2018 on the case of a woman who has been denied bereavement payments following the death of her partner of 23 years.

Siobhan McLaughlin, aged 46, had four children with her partner, John Adams, but when he died in 2014, she was denied a £2,000 lump sum bereavement payment as well as a weekly widowed parent allowance, which could have been worth up to £118 a week.

Explaining their decision not to marry, Ms McLaughlin said: “It was never an issue. I naively thought that the longer you were together as a couple the more rights you had.

“Our four children had their dad’s name; to me, it was just a ring and a bit of paper – the commitment was the same.”

The Supreme Court will rule on whether the terms of the current social security regulations, which have denied Ms McLaughlin a pay-out, are at odds with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2017, it allowed a similar appeal relating to access to local Government pensions for surviving cohabitants in the case of Denise Brewster.

This latest case comes shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that opposite-sex and same-sex partners should have the same entitlement to Civil Partnerships following a challenge by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld who argued that “civil partnerships are a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage”.

Last year Jakki Smith, an NHS worker, won a landmark battle for greater legal recognition for bereaved unmarried couples at the Court of Appeal. However, despite the occasional court victory, many cohabiting couples are left with nothing, following the death of their partner.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of cohabiting households has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

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