Fairer benefits for the bereaved

Neil Bateman explains the details of a new bereavement benefit
which successfully tackles the discriminatory rules that left many
men in financial difficulty after the loss of their wives

What are the new rules governing benefits to

From 9 April widowed men will have access to a new scheme of
bereavement benefits. Alongside these changes are ones which will
affect all newly widowed people. About 20,000 men are expected to
qualify when the rules change and a major piece of sex
discrimination in social security will be removed.

A wife’s income is often significant and one cannot assume
widowers will quickly remarry and stay in full-time work.

The first thing to bear in mind is that in order to qualify for
any bereavement benefit, a couple must have been married at the
time of death. Unmarried couples do not qualify although social
security law experts are considering whether a claim could be
mounted under human rights law to bring long-established
non-marriage partnerships within the scope of the new benefits. It
also means that, for example, in cases of terminal illness,
delaying a divorce or getting married to an unmarried partner may
well be benefit efficient.

There will be a new one-off bereavement payment of £2,000
for men and women. This counts as capital for income-based benefits
and is only for claimants under pensionable age not living as
husband and wife with another person at the time of death. There is
also a three-month limit for making claims.

Widowed mothers allowance is replaced by the new widowed parents
allowance open to both men and women under pension age with
children at the date of death.

A particular problem with the existing widowed mothers allowance
has been that it is set at such a level that women can find they
have an income which is just a bit too high for income support
(unless they have a mortgage or are entitled to premiums for
disability, carers, etc) but after paying the proportion of rent
due after partial housing benefit and school meals, they are often
worse off than someone on income support – a particularly nasty
poverty trap.

To remedy this, there will be a new £10 disregard for
income support and jobseekers allowance which will mean that many
non-working bereaved parents will now qualify (subject to the rules
about other income, capital and so on).

If you know anyone who is currently on widowed mothers allowance
and who is caught in the “widowed mothers poverty trap”, do get in
a claim as it is possible to claim income support up to three
months before entitlement is due to start.

For those without children, widows pension will be replaced by
the bereavement allowance and there are radical changes generally
around entitlement for new claimants. The benefit will be
restricted to the first year after the death and it can be claimed
up to three months after the death.

In addition, the claimant must be over 45 but under pension age
at the date of death or when their bereaved parents allowance
stopped. There are also some fairly complex transitional rules for
women whose husband dies before 9 April 2001 and of course there
are also national insurance contribution rules.

One problem not addressed by the new legislation is the living
together rule. This can affect widows and of course the downside of
opening up bereavement benefits to men is that they too may get
caught by the living together rules if they start a new
relationship. There is a strong case for tidying up the law so that
it can be applied consistently and fairly without intrusion.

Overall, the changes are fairer to bereaved men and will have a
positive effect on addressing poverty among children whose mothers

Neil Bateman manages Suffolk Council and Suffolk Health
Authority’s welfare rights service. He is unable to answer queries
by post or by telephone. If you have a question to be answered in
Welfare Rights please write to him c/o Community Care.

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