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Cohabitees to be eligible for bereavement damages

Cohabiting couples should soon be on an equal footing with married or civil partners when it comes to claiming bereavement damages.

At the moment, as bizarre as it seems co-habiting couples, regardless of how long they have lived together, are not entitled to claim compensation if their partner dies through someone’s negligence. Yet other couples who have been together even for a short-time are eligible to claim the benefit under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

Once the changes come into force, cohabitants will be eligible to claim providing they have lived together for at least two years.

The eligibility criteria were found to be discriminatory and not compatible with Human Rights law. This was flagged up by a case before the Court of Appeal in 2017, where a cohabitee was unable to claim bereavement damages when her partner of 11 years died as a result of medical negligence.

For the purposes of dependency damages, spouses and civil partners are considered to be in a stable and long-term relationship if they have been together for at least two years.

The Court of Appeal said that there was no justification for treating cohabitees any differently and that grief caused by the death of a long-term partner would be just as painful to bear whether the couple had been married, co-habiting or living together.

There are also plans to amend the scheme to recognise the previous partner of the deceased in a situation where a couple had separated but not divorced and the deceased was then co-habiting with a new partner. In this case, the award would be divided equally.

Diane Parker, personal injury solicitor, commented: “This is a welcome step forward but there is still a lot of work needed if the bereavement damages scheme is to be truly fit for purpose.

It is meant to compensate for the grief caused by the loss of a loved one, yet there are so many restrictions on who is eligible to claim.

The government is under pressure to look more broadly at the scheme. Further reforms may result in other close family members also being eligible to bereavement damages, such as cohabiting fathers who lose a child.”

For many years, personal injury lawyers have lobbied for the bereavement damages to be increased. Although there was an increase on 1 May 2020 from £12,980 to £15,120, this was the first rise in 7 years, and still does not adequately compensate for the loss. The amount payable in England is vastly different from that in Scotland where there is no upper limit; instead, each case is determined individually.