Updated: Apr 3
True of false?
Cohabitees are entitled to bereavement damages following the loss of their partner?
I’m afraid at the present time it is false…..
Things may be about to change.
£12,980 sounds like a lot of money…. But what if I told you that it is the amount it was the value of the heartache you would experience if you lost your partner or child provided. If you were married or your child was under the age of 18 that is…. It doesn’t seem quite so much does it. Worst still, if you’re not married or your child is over 18 then the value of your heartache drops to £0. I suspect the word insulting is now crossing your mind?
In England and Wales, bereavement damages are a statutory award intended to provide compensation for the grief caused when someone loses their life as the result of someone else’s negligence. They have been controversial and criticised for a number of years. The reason is two for really….. the amount of the award is low and the categories of people who are entitled to it are limited.
The Fatal Accident Act 1976 which applies to England and Wales allows payment of one fixed amount. I previously wrote an article on this issue in 2013 when the award for bereavement damages increased to £12,980 from £11,400. It pains me to say that six years on I could practically write the same Article again as the amount has not changed since this time. Perhaps worst of all is that the award for bereavement damages is a geographical lottery across the United Kingdom as different laws apply in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
In 2016, Northern Ireland increased the award of bereavement damages to £14,339 and set down that the award would be reviewed every three years with a view to ensure the award rose in line with inflation. The most recent increase came this month when the award was increased to £15,100. Whilst in Scotland there is no limit at all on bereavement damages.
Is it the case that those within England and Wales grieve less? Absolutely not.
The Categories of Claimants
Another reason for frustration is the categories of claimants entitled to claim. As the Fatal Accident currently stands, the only people entitled to claim are; spouses, civil partners and the parents of minor children where they are married and mother only where the parents are not married.
It may come as a shock to some that cohabitees, children who lose parents and parents who lose a child over the age of 18 are not entitled.
Much has changed since the Fatal Accident 1976 came into force. In an age where young couples are having to choose between spending their savings on a house deposit, weddings or children it is not surprising that there are now millions of cohabiting couples in the UK. Many couples are choosing not to get married but does that mean their loss is any less than if they were married…. Of course it doesn’t. Just as a parent’s grief does not change whether their child is under or over 18.
However, it appears to now be recognised that the law needs to catch up. In 2017, the Court of Appeal found in the case of Jacqueline Smith v Secretary of State for Justice  that a cohabitee of many years, Mrs Smith’s Human Rights were breached as a result of the Fatal Accident Act when she was denied bereavement damages on the basis on her marital status.
This month, the Government have proposed a remedial order with a view to rectifying the breach and suggested changes be made to the Fatal Accident Act to enable cohabitees who have lived together for at least two years to be included as a class of claimant entitled to bereavement damages. Such change will finally reflect that grief does not depend on whether you are married or not.
This is a step in the right direction.... perhaps could this be the start of a long overdue overhaul in an area which many would argue is priceless.