Unmarried mother wins landmark WPA Supreme Court Ruling

Siobahn McLaughlin, mother of four, and recently widowed, has won her Supreme Court case that allows her to claim a Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA).

Despite living with her partner, John Adams, for 23 years, Ms McLaughlin was denied this precious relief that would have helped lift the financial burden left in her partner’s absence because the couple were not married.

The archaic rule stipulates that only those in a married or civil partnerships are eligible to claim the relief.

Following the ruling, Siobahn McLaughlin, responded: “This case was never about me. I would love to be recognised as a widow, but I accept in the eyes of the law and the Government that I am not.

“What I wasn’t prepared to accept was how the Government viewed my children – how they could treat my grieving, bereaved children as insignificant.

“I am such a private person but to sit and accept that this is how it is made me say, ‘No, this is wrong’.

“I want to look my children in the eye and say it is the Government at fault here, not you, and because of this I have tried to rectify this for you.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said they would consider the ruling carefully.

The main consideration throughout the case was whether the restriction of marriage is discriminatory against the surviving partner and children. The ruling has the potential to bring WPA into the 21st century where many happy and committed couples do not marry.

The Supreme Court deemed the current legislation outdated in the modern age as it conflicts with human rights law because it “precludes any entitlement to WPA by a surviving unmarried partner.”

The court’s President, Lady Hale, said: “The allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children.

“Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married to or in a civil partnership with one another. The purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent.

“That loss is the same whether or not the parents are married or in a civil partnership with one another.”

Charities like the Child Bereavement Network have estimated that more than 2000 families are in a similar situation to Ms McLaughlin. Many families will now feel hopeful that this ruling will also allow them the relief of financial support.

Laura Banks, Ms McLaughlin’s solicitor, said: “thousands of children throughout the UK will now benefit.”

“What Siobhan has said from day one is that it’s unfair and it’s wrong that her children should be treated any different than children whose parents are married.”

“The Supreme Court have upheld that – it has actually said that not only is it unfair but it’s unlawful. We ask the Government to act quickly so that it can benefit as many people as possible.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We will consider the court’s ruling carefully. Widowed parent’s allowance was a contributory benefit and it has always been the case that inheritable benefits derived from another person’s contributions should be based on the concept of legal marriage or civil partnership.

“This ruling doesn’t change the current eligibility rules for receiving bereavement benefits, which are paid only to people who are married or in a civil partnership.”

When 3.3 million co-habiting couples live unmarried and 1.2 million of those have children, it is going to be increasingly difficult to ignore this section of society and continue to withhold WPA relief.

Do cases like this illustrate the importance of afterlife planning? Will this ruling help in other cases involving unmarried couples and inheritance?  


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