Belfast Telegraph

Test case on benefits for bereaved will go before Supreme court

By Mark Edwards

A landmark bereavement benefits case involving a mother-of-four from Co Antrim will be heard by the Supreme Court in Belfast.

Siobhan McLaughlin was given permission by the Supreme Court to appeal a decision made by the Court of Appeal in 2016 relating to her entitlement to bereavement benefits. The historic case will see the Supreme Court sit in Belfast for the first time.

Ms McLaughlin, who lived with her partner John Adams for more than 23 years, discovered her children would miss out on tens of thousands of pounds in benefits following Mr Adams' death in January 2014.

The family lost out on a £2,000 lump sum bereavement payment as well as a weekly payment of Widowed Parent's Allowance (WDA), which could be up to £118 per week, paid until the youngest child leaves school.

The four-day hearing will be heard at the Inns of Court Library at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Laura Banks, solicitor, Francis Hanna & Co, who represents Ms McLaughlin, said: "This case is extremely significant because it impacts not only Siobhan's family but many others throughout Northern Ireland and the UK who have lost a parent.

"It is not fair, nor we say is it lawful, that Siobhan's children, or indeed any child, should be turned down for support when they need it most, on the basis of the circumstances of their parents.

"Their loss is no different and they should not be forced into poverty at a time of bereavement.

"The case opens wider debate about our welfare system and how we support the most vulnerable in our society, particularly children.

"We are hopeful of a positive outcome in the Supreme Court next year, which will bring about much needed reform."

Ms McLaughlin took her case to the High Court in 2015, arguing that the refusal to pay her WDA discriminated against her on grounds of marital status and was therefore in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Mr Justice Treacy ruled in her favour. However, the decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2016.

The WDA has since been reformed to a less generous payment known as Bereavement Support Allowance, which is also unavailable to co-habiting partners at present.

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