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Widowed Parents' Allowance declared incompatible with ECHR

The UK Supreme Court has announced that it considers the Widowed Parents’ Allowance to be incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), on the basis that it requires claimants to have been married to their spouse and offers no protection to unmarried couples.

This has come to light after an unmarried mother from Northern Ireland – Siobhan McLaughlin – was refused bereavement payments following the death of her partner who she had four children with. Ms McLaughlin has now won a ruling from the Supreme Court that such legislation breaches human rights law.

Article 14 of the Convention offers protection from discrimination on the basis of a number of factors - including sex, race, birth or “other status”, which could be interpreted to mean marital status. Since Article 8 of the Convention also grants the right to a private and family life with which public authorities should not interfere, it stands to reason that those who choose not to marry should not be discriminated against for that private choice. However, the legislation surrounding Widowed Parents’ Allowance - which grants bereaved parents a maximum weekly sum of £117.10, depending on their spouse’s National Insurance contributions - states that one must have been married to, or in a formal civil partnership with, the deceased at the time of their death in order to claim the benefit. This has been found to discriminate against unmarried people and has resulted in their families missing out on vital financial support during an extremely difficult time in their lives. 

As the number of marriages across the UK falls, and more couples choose to cohabit, the government now faces the prospect of changing the Widowed Parents’ Allowance to grant protection to unmarried people and their children.

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