Bereavement Benefits – Open Letter
- Satwat Rehman, Director
During Children’s Grief Awareness Week, we welcome the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR)’s careful scrutiny of the proposed Remedial Order, and its recommendations which we fully support. The JCHR urges the Government to make important improvements to the Order that would further address the discrimination that grieving families and children have faced. We look forward to seeing an amended Remedial Order that takes on board all the Committee’s recommendations and suggested improvements.
In its current form, the Remedial Order doesn’t go far enough in making back payments to parents who missed out in the past. In line with our recommendation, the JCHR suggests that payments could instead be backdated to February 2016 when the courts first ruled that the system was discriminatory and incompatible with human rights standards. We also welcome the JCHR’s suggestion of an ex-gratia payment scheme, and believe this should be established for those families bereaved before February 2016. This means that Siobhan McLaughlin, who bravely brought the case, would be entitled to a full award, instead of missing out on 2 years of payments.
The JCHR makes other important recommendations: that entitlement is extended to pregnant women who were cohabiting with their partner, and that those who have previously applied for and been refused the benefits get retrospective payments in full.
The way that bereavement benefits interact with the taxation and social security system is complex. The Committee establishes an important principle that those receiving retrospective payments shouldn’t be disadvantaged compared to those who received their benefits at the time. We would welcome urgent clarification from colleagues in Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and the Treasury to confirm how the approach noted in the Remedial Order would be applied in practice.
We would also welcome the opportunity to work with colleagues at the Department of Work and Pensions, the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs to finalise the drafting of the Remedial Order and associated legislation, to realise fully the Prime Minister’s stated ambition to remedy this injustice.
Once the changes come into law, it is crucial that families who missed out in the past are made aware of the change so that they can make a claim. The Committee recommends an effective Government communication campaign. We are ready to support the Government in reaching out to our networks so that all families who have missed out on payments get the support they will finally be entitled to in order to help bring up their grieving children.