The government is facing pressure to review inheritance and tax rules in relation to cohabiting couples after a Supreme Court ruling.
The court allowed an appeal from mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin who was previously denied bereavement benefits because she was not married to her partner of 23 years.
The ruling reverses a Court of Appeal decision and gives McLaughlin access to the benefits.
Quilter tax and financial planning expert Rachael Griffin says the case is a reminder that marriage is “heavily engrained” in the UK’s current benefit and tax systems.
Griffin says: “High-profile court cases surrounding cohabitees is becoming an increasing occurrence and not a trend that the government should be applauding.”
She says: “This is a worrying state of affairs and one that merits serious examination by the government. Judgments like these increase the pressure on the government to carefully look at inheritance and tax rights to ensure they reflect modern family units.”
LEBC public policy director Kay Ingram says people should not rely on the decision being universally applied.
Ingram says: “While this decision will be welcomed by bereaved cohabiting parents who have chosen not to marry or become civil partners, it may not be universally applied unless the government changes existing legislation.”
The widowed parents allowance was replace in April 2017 by the Bereavement Support Payment, which is a lump sum of £3,500 and 18 monthly payments of £350. That benefit requires the parents to have been married or be civil partners.
Royal London spokeswoman Helen Morrissey adds: “It is to be hoped today’s decision marks the beginning of the end of decades of injustice faced by cohabiting couples.”
Royal London has estimated cohabiting couples could be missing out on as much as £82m a year in bereavement benefits.
Morrissey says: “The government must recognise the growing trend towards cohabitation – there are currently more than 3.2 million cohabiting couples in the UK – and ensure the benefits system reflects this reality.”