AN UNMARRIED mother from Co. Antrim has won a landmark legal case in her bid to claim Widow’s Pensions Allowance (WPA).
Siobhan McLaughlin had lived with her partner John Adams for 23 years and the couple had four children before his death in 2014.
The UK Supreme Court decided that denying Ms McLaughlin WPA was in breach of her family’s human rights as the purpose of the payment was to benefit her children with Mr Adams.
The landmark ruling is likely to affect thousands of bereaved families across Britain and Northern Ireland.
“For me, this case was always about the rights of bereaved children,” said Ms McLaughlin.
“I am so delighted that the Supreme Court shared our view that the law as it stands has discriminated against my children.”
Ms McLaughlin, whose children were 19, 17, 13 and 11 when their father died, continues to work two jobs to provide for her family.
WPA could be up to £118 per week paid until her last child leaves school.
Despite Mr Adams making sufficient contributions for Ms McLaughlin to be able to claim WPA, had she been married to him, her claims were refused by the Northern Ireland Department of Communities under Section 39 (A) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992.
She mounted a successful case at the High Court in Belfast on the grounds that the law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, however the government successfully appealed the decision at the Court of Appeal.
Today though the Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 4-1 that WPA “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 or in a civil partnership with one another”.
‘Not a difficult decision’
In the wake of the ruling, Lady Hale said: “This is not a difficult decision to reach on the facts of this case, where the couple lived together for many years, were recognised in doing so for other purposes by the Department for Communities and were parents of all the children involved.
“Their children should not be disadvantaged... This is unjustifiable discrimination in the enjoyment of a Convention Right is enough to ground a declaration of incompatibility under Section 4(2) of the Human Rights Act.”
Ms McLaughlin’s solicitor, Laura Banks of Francis Hanna & Co. said the decision could have huge ramifications for other families.
“An estimated 2,000 families each year are turned away from bereavement benefits because of this legislation which the Supreme Court has today clearly stated is unjustifiably discriminatory,” she said.
“We are absolutely delighted with this landmark decision and the tremendous impact it should have on the lives of families in times of great need. We consider that it finally puts an end to this shameful, almost Victorian discrimination.
“We urge the government to act without delay to implement the required changes to the law for the benefit of bereaved families such as Siobhan’s."