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Cohabitation – widowed parent’s allowance

The Supreme Court made a declaration that s39A Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) 1992 Act, by which a widowed parent can only claim widowed parent’s allowance (WPA) if they were married to or the civil partner of the deceased (D), is incompatible with Art 14 ECHR.

In this case, D and his partner had been together for 23 years and had four children. Though he had made sufficient contributions for his partner to be able to claim WPA, she could not claim it in practice as they were unmarried. The SC stated that the purpose of WPA is to benefit the children, and it makes no difference to them whether or not their parents were married to each other. However, is there an objective justification for this requirement?

The SC ruled that though the promotion of marriage and civil partnership is a legitimate aim (WPA being a part of a small package of social security measures privileging marriage and civil partnership), denying the claim by D’s partner (and thus the benefit to her children) was not a proportionate means of achieving this legitimate aim. The purpose of WPA is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent.

However, it is for Parliament to decide whether or how the law should be changed. In the matter of an application by Siobhan McLaughlin for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) [2018] UKSC 48. Source: www.supremecourt.uk.

 

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