Widower forces government to pay benefits

Widowers now enjoy the same rights as widows under the Welfare
Reform and Pensions Act 1999, but there is the problem of past
treatment of men who could not claim benefits under the previous
regime. One man forced the government to consider his case and give
him payments, but he had to go to Strasbourg to do it.

David Fielding married in 1973 and had three children (in 1974,
1976 and 1988). His wife, who died in 1996, had worked throughout
the marriage, only taking breaks to have the three children, and
paid full social security contributions as an employed earner. He
works full-time, pays the mortgage on the family home and supports
himself and the children, the two oldest of whom were currently at
university, and the youngest of whom lives at home and goes to a

In January 1997, Fielding applied for a widow’s payment and a
widowed mother’s allowance, payable under the Social Security and
Benefits Act 1992. He was told that his claim was invalid because
the regulations governing the payment of widows benefits were
specific to women. An appeal against such a decision was bound to
fail given that no UK social security benefits were then paid to
widowers. Fielding also applied for bereavement tax allowance, but
was informed that he did not qualify, because the law provided only
for payments to widows.

He applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
in 1997. On 9 April, 2001 the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999
came into force, making bereavement benefits available to both men
and women.

Fielding reached a friendly settlement in which the United
Kingdom government which agreed to pay him £14,573 (which it
said was the amount he would have received in widow’s payments and
widowed mother’s allowance from his wife’s death until 9 April,
2001, and the amount the widow’s bereavement tax allowance would
have been worth to him) plus £5,000 for legal costs and


The government gave in to the inevitable. Fielding was clearly
on strong ground, and the change in legislation would have been
necessary, even if not prompted by this case. It will be
interesting to see what happens to other men in the same situation
as Fielding.

Bernadette Livesey

Human Rights Solicitor

Walker Morris

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