Bereavement Support Payment Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

How is Bereavement Support Payment working?

1.We do not doubt the intention of the Department to undertake a full and robust evaluation of Bereavement Support Payment. We welcome the Department’s commitment to ensuring that such an evaluation uses the best possible evidence base. But BSP has now been claimed by almost 100,000 households. It is not clear to us why the Department still thinks that the evidence base for BSP is not yet adequate. (Paragraph 14)

2.We recommend that the Department begin to evaluate Bereavement Support Payment at the start of 2020 and should set out its plan for doing so in response to this report. As part of this evaluation, it should consider:

c)The duration for which BSP is paid;

d)The time limit for applying for BSP; and

e)Making cohabitees eligible for BSP. (Paragraph 15)

3.BSP is paid for a maximum of eighteen months after the death of a partner. But 18 months is not long enough for many bereaved families to come to terms with the emotional and financial implications of their new circumstances. Nor too will the immediate costs of bereavement have passed by then. We recommend that the Department extend the period for which BSP is paid and consult on the most appropriate duration. This should form part of the Department’s evaluation of BSP. (Paragraph 22)

4.People whose partner has died only have three months to apply for Bereavement Support Payment to receive their full entitlement, at what is likely to be of the most traumatic and busy periods of their lives. This short time limit for applying means that it is too easy for potential claimants to miss out on vital support, support which can ease the immediate financial pressures on grieving households following a death. We recommend that the Government increase the time limit for full entitlement to at least six months and take further evidence on the most appropriate time limit for application during its evaluation of BSP (Paragraph 28)

5.We welcome the steps the Government has taken to promote Bereavement Support Payment. But there is still room for improvement. Given the short time limit for applying for BSP, promoting it effectively is vital to ensuring that bereaved people get the support they need. (Paragraph 29)

6.We recommend that the Government ensures that registrars advise those registering a death to check if they are eligible for Bereavement Support Payment. The Department should provide leaflets for registrars to distribute that explain the bereavement benefits to which people may be entitled and signpost to the Bereavement Service and Tell Us Once. (Paragraph 30)

7.BSP is not taxable, but in a small number of cases people have had their BSP taxed. This may be because the tax credits claim form is unclear: in particular, claimants have to declare if they receive Bereavement Allowance—a separate, taxable benefit. We recommend that the Government update the tax credits change of circumstances form to clarify that BSP is not taxable and does not need to be declared. (Paragraph 32)

8.Bereavement Support Payment is not counted as income when calculating entitlement for Universal Credit. It is therefore difficult to see why the lump sum payment of BSP is treated after one year as personal savings or capital when calculating Universal Credit entitlement, particularly since BSP is designed as an 18 month-long benefit. People who have not spent their BSP lump sum at that point, for whatever reason, could see their UC payments reduced or even stopped whilst their monthly BSP payments continue. We recommend that BSP should not be treated as capital for the purpose of other benefits, including Universal Credit, for the full duration of its payment. (Paragraph 35)

9.Universal Credit claimants will usually be required to look for work six months after their partner has died. In many cases this will be far too short. The six month “easement” available to claimants, to exempt them from having to look for work, may be appropriate for some but may fail to take account of households’ different circumstances and the potentially seismic effect of bereavement on their lives. (Paragraph 40)

10.We recommend that Work Coaches are given the discretion to lift work-related requirements for bereaved Universal Credit claimants for up to 18 months after the six month “easement”. (Paragraph 41)

Cohabitees and eligibility

11.The Government has argued that extending eligibility for Bereavement Support Payment to bereaved cohabitees would create complexities. It says, in particular, that cohabitation is “not a straightforward concept” and could lead to “multiple claims”. Cohabitation is, however, already a familiar concept to the benefits system, for example, in Universal Credit. (Paragraph 51)

12.The Government has said that Bereavement Support Payment was designed to make bereavement benefits more accessible. Bereaved cohabitees with dependent children face similar costs of bereavement to other families—exactly the sort of costs that BSP is intended to mitigate. There is no good reason to deny Bereavement Support Payment to these families. The Government needs urgently to rectify this injustice. (Paragraph 52)

13.Over a year after it was given, the Government has not yet responded to the McLaughlin ruling, which found that not paying Widowed Parent’s Allowance to cohabitees is incompatible with human rights law. (Paragraph 59)

14.The McLaughlin ruling did not apply directly to Bereavement Support Payment. The same central principle applies, however: the fact that BSP is paid at a higher rate to those with dependent children must be because the Government assumes those families face higher immediate costs as a result of bereavement. The financial cost of bereavement to families with dependent children is no less because their parents were not married. (Paragraph 60)

15.The right thing for the Government to do in response to the McLaughlin ruling would be to make cohabitees eligible both for Widowed Parent’s Allowance and for Bereavement Support Payment. (Paragraph 61)

16.We are keen to end the delay faced by bereaved families to accessing the support they need and to which they should be entitled. The Department has acted too slowly in response to the McLaughlin judgment. One option may have been to bring forward a Remedial Order. However, the Government has not committed to doing so, and it is unclear if such an order would in any case be able to amend the eligibility criteria for Bereavement Support Payment. Ex gratia payments would not change the underlying eligibility criteria for either benefit. It may therefore be easier and quicker to deal with both Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payment in primary legislation, since the same issue is at stake: how to support families in which the partners are not in a legally recognised relationship. (Paragraph 64)

17.Given its concern about unintended consequences, the obvious next step is for the Government to consult on the best way to make bereaved cohabitees eligible for bereavement benefits. This could bring any unintended consequences to light and allow the Government to draw upon the widest base of expertise in formulating its response to the McLaughlin judgment. (Paragraph 74)

18.We recommend that the Government consult on options for reform of both Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payment. Those options should include:

f)Making children directly eligible for bereavement benefits; and

g)Recognising cohabitation in a similar way to elsewhere in the benefits system.

The Government should start the consultation as soon as possible, and, in any event, before the end of 2019 in order to meet its stated aim of ‘making bereavement benefits more accessible’ as quickly as possible. (Paragraph 75)

Published: 22 October 2019