If a person's husband, wife or civil partner dies leaving the survivor with dependent children, the WPA may be payable. The purpose of it is to help support the children.
According to the Government website, a person might obtain WPA if their:
- husband, wife or civil partner died before 6 April 2017
- the survivor is under state pension age
- the survivor is entitled to child benefit for at least one child and their late husband, wife or civil partner was their parent
- the late husband, wife or civil partner paid National Insurance Contributions (or they die as a result of an industrial accident or disease)
A person can make a claim if they are pregnant at the time of death of their husband or civil partner.
It can be seen that the definitions above do not include co-habiting partners i.e. those who are not married or in civil partnerships.
However, this could be about to change due to a recent Supreme Court judgment.
The case also has the distinction of being the first one heard by the Supreme Court in Northern Ireland.
The applicant was an unmarried mother of four. Her partner of 23 years died but as they were not married, the applicant could not claim WPA. She brought a court case, which was successful in the Supreme Court where it was held that refusing her WPA claim was incompatible with her human rights.
The central issue is that children whose parents are not married should not be treated any differently to children whose parents are married.
The Supreme Court cannot change the law – but a decision such as this can put pressure on the Government to alter the rules. The Department of Work and Pensions has said that the current eligibility criteria still apply and that they are reviewing the implications of the judgment.
The judgment has implications for the 1.2m co-habiting couples who have children. A director of the Child Bereavement Network said that more than 2,000 families face the "double hit of one parent dying, and the other parent realising that they and the children aren't eligible for bereavement benefits".
If you are affected by this issue, contact us.