The Team

Unmarried mother wins benefits claim
30/08/2018
Unmarried mother wins benefits claim
Siobhan McLaughlin lived with John Adams for 23 years. They weren't married and at the time of Mr Adam's death on 28th January 2014, they had four children together aged 19, 17, 13 and 11 years of age. At the time of his death, Mr Adams had paid sufficient contributions that, had he been married, his widow would have been entitled to claim Widowed Parents Allowance (WPA).  However, as they weren't married, when Ms McLaughlin made a claim for WPA, the Northern Ireland Department of Communities refused her application. 

As a result of the refusal, Ms McLaughlin made an application to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the decision on the basis that it was in contravention of her human rights - specifically, that Section 39A of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 (Section 39A) was contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights  (ECHR) when read with Article 8. The Judge in the High Court agreed with her. However, on appeal to the Court of Appeal, that decision was reversed where it was unanimously decided that Section 39 was not incompatible with Article 14 of the ECHR.

Ms McLaughlin appealed to the Supreme Court as a result of the decision going against her in the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court decided by majority of 4 to 1 (Lord Hodge dissenting) that Section 39A was contrary to the ECHR in that it precluded an unmarried mother making a claim for WPA and allowed Ms McLaughlin's appeal.

You can view the full judgement on the Supreme Court website by clicking here. For those of you who are in a hurry and would like a quick summary of the judgement, please click here.

Whilst this decision doesn't actually change the law, it puts pressure on the UK Government to change the rules as to who is entitled to this benefit - potentially opening the door to thousands of unmarried claimants who haven't been able to make a claim up until now. We await with interest the UK Government's response.