Belfast Telegraph

'No discrimination' in stopping woman's benefit for living with another man, judge rules

Belfast High Court (Paul Faith/PA)
Belfast High Court (Paul Faith/PA)

By Alan Erwin

A Newry woman whose Widowed Parent's Allowance was stopped when she began living with another man suffered no unlawful discrimination, the High Court has ruled.

Marina Lennon challenged the decision to halt the benefit after her first husband died, claiming it violated her right to private and family life.

But a judge dismissed her case on Tuesday after siding with the reasoning behind payments aimed at providing financial support for single bereaved parents with dependent children.

Mr Justice McCloskey said: "Where the life circumstances of the surviving spouse entail the formation of a new adult relationship, whether of the cohabiting or married variety, the assumption underpinning the legislation is that the financial need caused by the death no longer exists.

"The economic gap will be sufficiently filled by the formation of the new adult relationship." 

Mrs Lennon was seeking to judicially review the Department for Communities over the move, claiming it has put her teenage daughter at a financial disadvantage.

Her lawyers also argued that suspension of the allowance creates a deterrent to forming a new relationship.

The challenge raised different legal points to the landmark case taken by unmarried Co Antrim mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled the decision to deny Ms McLaughlin a Widowed Parent's Allowance when her partner died breached the family's human rights.

Mrs Lennon, the mother of a 15-year-old girl, had been granted the benefit after her first husband passed away in October 2012.

It was only in 2014 when she started cohabiting with another man - who she went on to marry - that the payments were stopped.

Her legal team contended that the Department's decision could not be justified.

However, Mr Justice McCloskey described the policy as rational, fair and balanced.

He said it was about "distributing finite public funds as equitably as possible and, more specifically, providing financial support to surviving spouses and civil partners during a period when their need would be expected to be greatest, while discontinuing such support when their adult relationship circumstances alter in a manner whereby the earlier need would generally be expected to be dissipated".

Acknowledging Mrs Lennon has lost £10 a week since December 2014, the judge concluded: "The court does not underestimate the impact of this loss.

"However, for the reasons given I consider that her challenge must fail."

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