Social Welfare Appeal G0129:  Widowed Parent’s Allowance

Types of Social Welfare: Widowed Parent’s Allowance, One-Parent Family Payment; Widows pension; Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant.

Title of Payment: One Parent Family Payment

Date of Final Decision: 30 August 2018

Keywords: Widowed Parent’s Allowance; Discrimination; European Convention on Human Rights; Judicial Review: One-Parent Family Payment; Widows pension; Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant

Organisation who represented the Claimant: n/a

Casebase no: G0129

Case Summary:

This is a case concerning legislation applicable in Northern Ireland.

Widowed parent’s allowance (‘WPA’) is a contributory, non-means-tested, social security benefit payable to men and women with dependent children, who were widowed before March 2017. Under s 39A Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 (‘s 39A’) the widowed parent can only claim the allowance if he or she was married to, or the civil partner of, the deceased. The issue in this appeal is whether this requirement unjustifiably discriminates against the survivor and/or the children on the basis of their marital or birth status, contrary to article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) (when read with either the right to respect for family life under article 8, or the protection of property rights in Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1)).

Ms McLaughlin and her husband, John Adams, lived together (apart from two short periods of separation) for 23 years until he died on 28 January 2014. They never married and had four children who were aged between the ages of eleven and nineteen when their father died. He had made sufficient National Insurance contributions for Ms McLaughlin to be able to claim bereavement payment and WPA, had she been married to him. Ms McLaughlin’s claims for both bereavement payment and widowed parent’s allowance were refused by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities. She applied for judicial review of that decision on the ground that the relevant legislation was incompatible with the ECHR. That claim succeeded in part before Treacy J in the High Court: In the matter of an application by Siobhan McLaughlin for Judicial Review: [2016] NIQB 11.

He made a declaration of incompatibility under section 4(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998, that s39A is incompatible with article 8 of the ECHR in conjunction with article 14  “insofar as it restricts eligibility for WPA by reference to  the marital status of the applicant and the deceased”. The Court of Appeal unanimously held that the legislation was not incompatible with article 14, read either with article 8 or with A1P1: [2016] NICA 53.

Ms McLaughlin therefore appealed to the Supreme Court.