Who is entitled to a bereavement award?
Firstly a claim for a bereavement award is in addition to other claims that may be made under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
There are only a limited class of people who can claim for bereavement compensation in a civil claim:
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving civil partner
- Parents (if the child was under 18)
- Unmarried couples? (living together as husband and wife/same sex couple for at least two years prior to death – see further below).
Civil Partners Act 2004 introduced a claim for a bereavement award. But what about unmarried couples? The Fatal Accidents Act 1976 Guide, we have provided clearly shows that if a couple is unmarried or not in a sanctioned civil partnership, the death of a partner due to a fatal accident were not entitled to claim.
However, a recent development and very much welcomed came when an unmarried partner was able to challenge for a bereavement award despite the limited class of people who can claim under the 1976 Act.
In this case, Miss Smith had cohabited with her partner for over 10 years when her partner unfortunately died due to a medical accident. She believed the law was unfair and incompatible to other laws such as pursue the bereavement award as well as a declaration of incompatibility under the European Convention of Human Rights with regard to the right for family and private life and protection from discrimination respectively. She had the right to challenge but no compensation was payable. The law has changed and it is likely that unmarried couples may be able to claim for a bereavement award but the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 has not been changed to date.
It is an important attempt and example that illustrates the need for urgent reform; the case can be read in full by clicking here: Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals & Others 2017 – bereavement award challenge by cohabitee/unmarried couple. But a step back in the case of same-sex couples: Stienfeld case.