Belfast Telegraph

Supreme court to hear unmarried Belfast mum's challenge over widow pension rights

By Claire O'Boyle

A Belfast mum is taking the Government to the UK's highest court over bereavement payments - four years after her partner of more than two decades died.

Siobhan McLaughlin (46) had four children with groundsman John Adams but, despite living together for 20 years, she was denied a £2,000 lump sum bereavement payment when he died in 2014.

Her application for a widowed parent allowance, which could have meant up to £118 per week, was also refused.

Ms McLaughlin said getting married had never been an issue for the committed couple.

"I naively thought that the longer you were together as a couple, the more rights you had," she explained.

"Our four children had their dad's name - to me it was just a ring and a bit of paper, the commitment was the same."

At the time of Mr Adams' death the couple's children were aged 11, 13, 17 and 19.

A stay-at-home parent while her partner was alive, Ms McLaughlin has since had to take on three jobs - working in special needs support in a school in the mornings, cleaning in the afternoon, and hotel housekeeping at the weekends.

In 2015 Ms McLaughlin won a case at the High Court where she argued the refusal to pay her widow's allowance discriminated against her on the grounds of marital status and breached her human rights.

However, the decision was overturned on appeal the following year.

The latest case will be heard at the Supreme Court in Belfast in April, when it sits here for the first time.

Laura Banks from Belfast law firm Francis Hanna & Co said: "No child should be turned down for support when they need it most on the basis of the marital circumstances of their parents. Their loss is no different and they should not be forced into poverty at a time of bereavement."

Ms McLaughlin added: "The way I looked at it was someone has to make a stand.

"Even if things don't change after my case, it paves the way for someone else to come forward. At some point down the line the law has to change, surely. This is 2018."

The legal challenge, supported by Macmillan Nurses and Citizens Advice, comes as ministers face growing pressure in Westminster to change the law on cohabiting couples.

A Private Member's Bill urging the Government to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples will get its second reading on Friday.

And in May the Supreme Court will hear the case of Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, who want civil partnerships to be available to heterosexual couples, saying "civil partnerships are a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage".

Tory MP Tim Loughton, a former Children's Minister, said he'd tabled the Bill because of a basic inequality in the system and he wanted to offer families more routes to stability.

The number of cohabiting households has more than doubled in the UK to 3.3 million in 2017, from 1.5m in 1996.

Belfast Telegraph

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