DWP slammed for leaving thousands of grieving families in limbo without benefits
Tory ministers are slammed today for leaving thousands of grieving families without bereavement benefits – more than a year after losing a Supreme Court case.
MPs voiced fury at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failing to help unmarried couples who are stuck in legal limbo.
People who lose their partner before pension age can claim a Bereavement Support Payment – worth up to £3,500, plus £350 a month for 18 months.
But couples must be married or in a civil partnership to qualify – which deprives the benefit to 2,200 "cohabiting" couples with children each year.
They won a victory in August 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled the situation was incompatible with human rights law.
Yet 14 months on, the DWP is still working out how to act – despite having clear rules for cohabiting couples in other benefits.
Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, blasted: "Cohabiting families have been waiting 14 months for the Government to make up their mind.
"It is risible for Ministers to claim that ‘cohabitation is a complex concept’ while applying it when it suits them in the rest of the benefits system.
"All the while, suffering is heaped on suffering for bereaved children.
"The Government has allowed this terrible injustice to go on far too long: it must make it right, and urgently."
Today's report also urges the DWP to extend the time limit for applying from three to six months because too many grieving spouses miss the deadline.
Likewise MPs urge the DWP to extend the time limit before widowed people must start looking for work – from six months to up to 18 months.
Mum-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin won the Supreme Court case after her partner of 23 years John Adams died in 2014 – but she was refused Widowed Parent's Allowance.
Justices found this was incompatible with Article 14 (discrimination) and Article 8 (private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case did not directly affect Bereavement Support Payment because WPA is an old benefit that ended in 2017.
But in their report, MPs say the issues are the same no matter that the benefit is.
The committee's report declares: "Losing a parent or a partner is devastating regardless of whether the surviving parent was married or cohabiting.
"There is no good reason to deny Bereavement Support Payment to families with unmarried couples.
"The Government needs urgently to rectify this injustice."
MPs heard from one mum, Elanor, who lost her partner Robin in a motorbike accident aged 33 18 days before her first child was born.
She told MPs: "He paid into National Insurance for about 15 years and our daughter sees none of that. It’s wrong.
"The only way I survived financially after being widowed was because my parents helped me out – that and we had life insurance that paid off our mortgage if one of us died."
Mum-of-three Lelana lost postman Adam in a car crash in February 2017 when he was 37. She told MPs: "We had been together so long that we felt married, we did the things married people did, and we were passionately in love.
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