Guide to the Bereavement Award & Bereavement Damages 2021
In this 2021 guide, we will help walk you through the ins and outs of the bereavement award. We will cover what it is, how you may be eligible and the current amount you can claim for in damages. We will also explain why we think the award amount is unjust.
For more information on the bereavement award, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Click the button below for free, no-obligation advice from one of our expert solicitors.
How Has the Bereavement Award Changed in May 2020?
The latest update to the Bereavement Award occurred in May 2020. As a result of the Government reviewing the award for bereavement following the loss of a loved one by the Damages for Bereavement (Variation of Sum) (England and Wales) Order 2020, the compensation for a bereavement award has been increased from £12,980 to £15,120. A paltry £2,140 addition to an unjust award. The last time the award was increased was seven years ago.
The increase in the bereavement award only applies to bereaved families who lose a loved one on or after 1st May 2020. Families who have already suffered prior to this date will receive the old award of £12,980. It must be remembered that not all family members can claim for a bereavement award see our page: bereavement award who is entitled?
For more details regarding the current and previous rates for bereavement damages in 2020, please click the button below.
What Is a Bereavement Award?
A bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 is a personal injury compensation claim made following the unlawful death of a person involved in an accident or illness at work due to the fault by another. Statutory bereavement damages of £15,120 are awarded in successful claims at court.
The most common allegation that a claims solicitor will argue against the Defendant will be under the tort law of negligence. Bereavement damages are paid where you may also hear the words ‘unlawful killing’ or where the death has occurred due to a criminal offence such as murder.
Who Can Claim For a Bereavement Award?
To claim bereavement damages, certain criteria must be met. You have to be a spouse, civil partner or parent if the child is under 18. Unmarried couples who’ve been together for at least two years are now also included.
There are also situations where people are unable to claim. This includes children who’ve lost a parent, parents who’ve lost a child over 18, and the loss of a sibling. Grandparents and grandchildren are not entitled.
Why Is the Amount of a Bereavement Award Considered Too Low?
It’s our firm belief that the amount following the wrongful death of a loved one should be increased. One of the richest countries in the world, the UK (or specifically England & Wales) makes the loss of life following a tragic fatal accident worthless or close to it. It is not right.
The statutory bereavement award, in our respectful view, is too low. It does not provide sufficient compensation for suffering from the death of a family member. The government has assessed the award over the years for the loss of a close family member, wife, husband, son, daughter in the current sum of £15,120.
We all appreciate that no amount of money can compensate for the loss, but the government appears to suggest (or an excuse due to the pressure from insurance companies) that the death of a loved one is only worth a ‘token amount’. That is simply not right, it’s unjust and insurance companies are getting away in not paying a “fair” amount for the recognition that the death of a close family member was unlawful.
Examples of an Unjust Law
Here are some examples of why the bereavement award is an unjust law:
- In the death of an illegitimate child (under 18 years), the mother receives bereavement entitlement while the father gets nothing. But as the law stands, even if the father was entitled to an award, both parents would have to share it, thus they would receive £7,560 each for the pain, grief and suffering. Somehow the compensation will mean, to reflect society perhaps, the parents shared suffering means they share the award? There is no logical conclusion other than penny-pinching.
- If an adult child (18 years plus) was killed in a road accident, the parents would receive nothing. Yet if the child was 17 years and 364 days old at the time of the accident, the parents would receive the full bereavement compensation. But that, as we have said before is still an insult and the parents would have to share it.
- In the death of a parent, for some unknown reason, a child receives absolutely nothing for the death of her/his mother or father. Maybe the lawmakers at the time thought that if both parents died in a fatal road accident it would mean the children would be over-compensated because the insurance company for the person at fault would have to pay two awards. Therefore, for whatever reason, a child losing his/her parent(s) gets absolutely nothing. It is not right.
- When a child sustained fatal injuries whilst under 18 but dies when over 18 years, no bereavement damages are entitled. Can you believe it? No award is payable thanks to the case of Dolema v Deakin (1990).
Is the Bereavement Award Impacted by Covid-19?
2020 has been a very troubling time for us all in one way or another and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we are over the worse just yet. This year will forever be remembered as the year when a coronavirus disease severely affected every country across the world. While the social and financial repercussions of the virus are clear, we can’t lose sight of the most devastating impact on society. This year there have been over a million deaths due to the Covid-19 disease. In the UK, tens of thousands of loved ones have tragically had to say their goodbye to close family and friends, many of which have been unable to attend funerals.
One of the biggest impacts of the disease in relation to the bereavement award is a recent change to who is eligible. From October 6th 2020, cohabitees are entitled to the award if they lived with their partner for at least two years before the death. Given the nature of the pandemic, thousands have already suffered a bereavement and more will sadly be on the way. In some circumstances, if someone has acted negligent or reckless in failing to keep others safe from the disease, then you may be able to take legal action and claim compensation.
While everyday life is still significantly impacted by restrictions that have been imposed on us to reduce the spread of transmission, this doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a claim that you are eligible for. If you feel you have the right to a bereavement award payout, don’t allow the current uncertainty and restricted freedom to stop you in your tracks. As solicitors, we are still operating while following current guidelines, and the country’s legal system remains up and running.
What About Criminal Injuries Compensation?
If someone has died due to a violent crime, a qualified family may claim compensation on behalf of the deceased. A child may claim if they were receiving parental care at the time of their parent’s death – this applies even if they are over 18. If a spouse or civil partner was financially dependent on the deceased, they are eligible to claim but won’t be able to claim for a bereavement award.
Claiming for the loss of life from a criminal injury is determined by a number of factors based on the impact it has had on their relative’s life. This may include financial dependency, caring dependency and funeral expenses.
Please click the link below to find out more about how criminal injuries compensation aligns with bereavement damages.
Watch Our Quick Guide
What Is the Bereavement Support Payment?
The Government scheme may help families who have lost a loved one, but it has been heavily criticised when it was updated recently as families, especially with children, are said to be losing out.
A benefit is called a Bereavement Support Payment and is payable if a husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017.
If that is the case, then the following must be met:
- paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks
- the death was caused by an accident at work or a disease caused by work
- be under State Pension age
- be living in the UK or a country that pays bereavement benefits
But, according to the Childhood Bereavement Network, it claims that working families could lose out by £12,000 each due to the law change by the Conservative Government in 2017, as per this childhood bereavement article.
What Is the Widow’s Parent Allowance?
A Government scheme may also pay you an additional amount under what is called the Widowed Parent’s Allowance if:
- husband, wife or civil partner died before 6 April 2017
- under State Pension age
- entitled to Child Benefit for at least one child and your late husband, wife or civil partner was their parent
- your late husband, wife or civil partner paid NI contributions, or they died as a result of an industrial accident or disease
The Government website also says that you may also claim WPA if you’re pregnant and your husband has died, or you’re pregnant after fertility treatment and your civil partner has died.
The amount you get is based on how much your late husband, wife or civil partner paid in National Insurance contributions and the maximum benefit paid is £117.10 a week.
What Is an Inquest Hearing?
When a death has occurred, it’s important to establish how it came to be as soon as possible. In a lot of cases, the answer may appear straightforward, such as natural causes like old age or long-term illnesses. However, if the death is sudden and unexpected, then it may not be immediately clear why the person has passed away. An inquest hearing may take place a few months after the death if it’s not clear how the person died or there are suspicious of foul play, such as murder or negligence. Inquest hearings do not hand down a verdict on who is to blame but will determine the cause of death. Following an unlawful killing verdict, an accident compensation claim can then be pursued.
Please visit our in-depth guide on inquest hearings for more information.
Award for Unmarried Couples Challenged in Court
The rights for unmarried couples who suffer from bereavement is being challenged in the Highest Court in England and Wales.
A legal challenge is to be pursued on behalf of parents who are not married but should be entitled to make a bereavement claim and receive the same benefits as those who are married. A spokesperson said that every year more than 2,000 families in the UK face the “double hit” of one parent dying and their partner realising that their children are not eligible for bereavement benefits.
It is reported that, on average, a cohabiting parent earning £10,000 a year loses out by over £15,000 over the children’s childhood if their partner dies.
In another example, as reported by the BBC, an unmarried woman from Chorley has won a historic legal battle. Jakki Smith argued that her human rights had been breached by not receiving bereavement damages following her partner’s death which was caused by an infection following tumour removal. The court ruled in her favour stating that the bereavement award should be provided to anyone in a relationship for at least two years.
Update on Cohabitants and Bereavement Awards
Following a court case in the Court of Appeal, Jacqueline Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust; and the Secretary of State for Justice ( EWCA Civ 1916 the Government is to review the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 under section 1A(2)(a) due to the Court’s findings that only married couples can claim for a bereavement award which is incompatible with Article 14 read with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Mrs Smith, in that case, had lived with the deceased as his unmarried partner for a period of over two years immediately prior to his death.
As the law currently stands, a statutory bereavement award following a fatal accident claim can only be made to:
- the wife or husband of the deceased;
- the civil partner of the deceased;
- where the deceased was a minor who was never married or had a civil partner( a minor here is classed as under the age of 18 years old at the time of death); to his or her parents if he or she was legitimate; or to his or her mother, if illegitimate.
How Can the Bereavement Award Change for the Better?
Thus the Government is proposing to amend the Fatal Accidents Act under section 1A(2)(a) to incorporate cohabitees who have lived together in a compatible relationship for a period of at least two years prior to the fatal accident to be able to claim compensation for a bereavement award. The proposed order can be viewed: Remedial Order to Amend Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (May 2019) & Bereavement Award
The Fatal Accidents Act Bereavement Award provision on couples ‘living together’ is that they must be living in the same household for at least two years prior to death and is summarised below;
Section 1(3)(b) of the 1976 Act allows cohabitees to make a claim for bereavement damages subject to certain criteria:
- That they were living with the deceased in the same household immediately before the date of the death
- That they had been living with the deceased in the same household for at least 2 years before that date
- That they were living during the whole of that period as the husband or wife or civil partner of the deceased.
This provision for unmarried couples under the 1976 Act is incompatible to section 10 (2) Human Rights Act. The breach of Article 14 identified by the Court in the Smith Case relates a right to family life as the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 discriminates against couples who are not married. The Government consider that there are compelling reasons for making the necessary legislative change swiftly.
The proposed change in the 1976 Act, would have the effect that a claimant who cohabited with the deceased person for a period of at least two years immediately prior to the death would be eligible to receive an award of bereavement damages.
Further, where both a qualifying cohabitant and a spouse is eligible (i.e. where the deceased was still married and not yet divorced or separated but had been in a new cohabiting relationship for at least two years) the award should be divided equally between the eligible claimants. This is really a money pinching compromise, both should be entitled to a full bereavement award. In reality, the loss is significant, the statutory bereavement award is not a great deal of compensation in the whole scheme of things and the numbers that it affects are small.
The change in the law will apply to fatal accidents occurring on or after the day on which the new laws come into force.
Our Coverage in the UK Media
As experienced solicitors in this area of law, we have sadly dealt with several cases over the years involving bereavement award damage claims. While in an ideal world we wouldn’t see any unlawful death caused by malicious or negligent behaviour, the sad fact is that this is impossible. Nevertheless, we are fully dedicated to ensuring that we can help families recover from their loss in any way possible.
We are not afraid to stand up for what we firmly believe to be right. That is why we have consistently been vocal in our disagreement over the bereavement award in its current form. It does not provide adequate damages in the event of bereavement and is far too limited in eligibility criteria.
We have regularly spoken to the UK media regarding these issues. One of our more publicised cases involves the tragic story of Megan Storey and Jordanna Goodwin, as reported by the Daily Mail and The Times. These two young girls died following a fatal road accident in South Yorkshire in 2014. We worked on behalf of the girl’s parents to fight the injustice of the system, including the launch of an e-petition requesting that the statutory bereavement award amount be increased.
Bereavement Award and Clinical Negligence
There are several scenarios that make someone eligible for a bereavement award. As we have already made clear in this guide, to make a claim, the claimant should meet the specified criteria in relation to their association with the deceased. Obviously, a claim can only be made if someone has sadly died. Furthermore, claims are only possible if the death is ruled to have been unlawful due to someone else’s actions.
In terms of how the death came to be, there are multiple circumstances that can contribute to it being unlawful or negligent. Murder, for instance, is a clear attempt to end someone’s life, resulting in emotional pain and financial struggles for the deceased’s close relatives. Clinical negligence is another important circumstance that can lead to a bereavement award. With a clinical negligence claim, the deceased’s death will have been caused by the negligence of a medical professional. If a patient dies as a result of misdiagnosis or incorrect treatment, then this will be classed as clinical negligence. A bereavement award can be handed out where clinical negligence is proven. A good example of this is the Jakki Smith case that we have mentioned above. Mrs Smith’s husband had a tumour removed which resulted in an infection that was not picked up by medical professionals.
Jack’s Law and Bereavement Leave
Some good news that the Government are putting into law in regards to bereavement leave. Working parents who lose a child are to be entitled to two weeks’ statutory leave, under the new legal right – referred to as “Jack’s Law.”
The law is named after 23-month-old Jack Herd, who tragically lost his life in 2010 after drowning in a pond. His father returned to work just a mere three days after Jack’s death, whilst Jack’s mother, Lucy Herd, began a campaign to highlight the problems facing bereaved parents who previously were expected to return to work as quickly as possible.
Some good out of something so tragic. Two weeks is of some help but most employers would usually provide this in any event.
For further reading, please read our blog about Jack’s Law and bereavement leave.
Taking Money from the Deceased’ Family Is Wrong
As fatal accident compensation solicitors, we feel this is unjust to take up to 25% of the compensation for grieving families. However, whilst we do not like to charge any success fee, due to significant increases in court fees and drastic legal cost-cutting we are forced to make a charge which currently stands at 12.5% (half what most other solicitors will charge) plus vat.
We offer a No Win, No Fee service so the family are fully protected. It can be costly to go to another firm of solicitors.
Are you looking to claim bereavement damages for the death of a family member? Please feel free to contact our specialist fatal accident solicitors for guidance and advice. We will be pleased to help you even if it is just a query rather than making a fatal accident claim.
Definition of Key Terms
We understand that the terms surrounding the bereavement award and claiming for fatal accident compensation can be complicated, which is why we have created the following glossary explaining some of the key terms.
- Bereavement Award: A statutory compensation claim awarded to eligible family members in the event of an unlawful death to a loved one.
- Unlawful Killing: A verdict delivered at an inquest which finds that a death has been caused without lawful excuse.
- Bereavement Support Payment: A welfare benefit provided to people who have lost a husband, wife or civil partner.
- Dependency Claim: A form of compensation that recognises the loss of support and services that a person benefited from before the death of a loved one.
- Remedial Order: An order made under the Human Rights Act 1998 to amend legalisation that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Inquest Hearing: This is an important part of the process of making a claim. Inquest hearings are held by a coroner to establish the cause of death. Claims can only be made where the death is judged to have happened unlawfully or due to someone else’s negligent actions.
- Jack’s Law: A new piece of legislation that provides parents with two weeks of paid bereavement leave following the death of a child.
- No Win, No Fee: Claimants are only required to pay solicitor fees if they win their case and not if their case is unsuccessful.
- Clinical Negligence: This is a legal term that describes a situation where a person has suffered an injury or harm as a result of medical negligence. For example, a patient may have received an incorrect diagnosis or medical treatment, or the medical professional may have made a mistake during a procedure. Clinical negligence compensation claims can occur where a medical professional has acted negligently when taking care of a patient.