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Bereaved cohabitees to be offered same statutory compensation as married people

Following proposals from the Ministry of Justice to amend the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 to offer the same Statutory Bereavement Award to cohabitees as to married people, a remedial Order comes into force on 6th October 2020.

Currently, if someone dies as a result of medical negligence, industrial disease (such as mesothelioma) or an accident, their spouse can claim (among other things) £12,980 as a 'Statutory Bereavement Award'.

Until this amendment, a long-term partner could claim many of the same items under the Fatal Accident Act as a bereaved spouse, but not this Statutory Bereavement Award – i.e. would receive £12,980 less than a married person in a successful civil claim.

The Government agreed to amend the Act under the Human Rights Act 1998, bringing the rights of cohabitees in line with those who are married. The Order inserts the term 'cohabiting partner' into the class of people entitled to the bereavement payment. The definition includes same sex relationships.

The Fatal Accident Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020 now states:

'(2A) In subsection (2) “cohabiting partner” means any person who—

(a) was living with the deceased in the same household immediately before the date of
the death;

(b) had been living with the deceased in the same household for at least two years
before that date;

(c) was living during the whole of that period as the wife or husband or civil partner of
the deceased.'

Following the case of Jacqueline Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Others in 2017, the Court of Appeal declared that limiting the category of people eligible for bereavement damages to the wife, husband or civil partner of the deceased was contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Since I primarily represent people suffering fatal industrial disease, this is a welcome move, but it is important to note, however, that it is not retrospective and will not apply to deaths occurring before 6th October 2020.

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