In McLaughlin (Application for Judicial Review) [2018] UKSC 48 the Supreme Court held that denying widowed parent's allowance to unmarried, cohabiting partners with children is incompatible with article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), read with article 8.

Siobhan McLaughlin had been with her partner John for 23 years and they had raised four children together when he died. Before meeting Siobhan, John's previous wife had died and he had promised her that he would not remarry.

Lady Hale noted: “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.”

A Department for Work & 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.”

This case could have wide ranging implications and change may be required, considering the escalating number of couples choosing cohabitation in preference to marriage.

Click here for the full judgment.