Who Is Entitled to a Bereavement Award?
There are only a limited class of people who can claim for bereavement compensation award in a civil claim set out under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976:
- 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.
Unmarried? Can I Claim Bereavement Compensation?
If a partner has died due to a fatal accident caused by another, providing that the surviving partner was:
- married to the deceased,
- in a civil partnership with the deceased,
A bereavement compensation award can be made. However, if they were not married or in a Civil Partnership at the time of the fatal accident claim, no compensation for a bereavement award is payable under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Please note a parent can claim for a bereavement award for a loss of a child providing that the child was under 18 years of age at the time of death. However, this article concentrates on couples who cohabit by choice or otherwise and choose not to marry or be in a Civil Partnership.
In a recent development and very much welcomed, came a challenge through the Courts where an unmarried partner tried to claim 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 but is about to be amended at the time of writing this page, see below.
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.
Change in the Law to Qualify for a Bereavement Award
Following the Court of Appeal case in Smith, the Government is intending to change the law so that unmarried couples can also claim compensation for a bereavement compensation following a fatal accident claim if they were living together for a period of two years prior to death as ‘husband and wife.’
The full proposals to change the law can be found here Fatal Accident claims and Cohabitees on bereavement compensation claims.
See further our report on the Government Changes to Bereavement Compensation Award
Fatal Accident Claims and Cohabitees
Below is a comprehensive guide on Cohabitation is rapidly growing in popularity amongst couples in the UK. Even though an unmarried couple may be able to bring a claim, they must satisfy the Court that they were ‘living together‘ for a period of two years prior to death.
While the law is gradually adapting to reflect these changes and provide greater protection for cohabitees, as yet there are no automatic legal rights for cohabiting couples. So what happens if you are a cohabitee and your long-term partner passes away in a tragic accident?
Where the accident is found to be the fault of a third party, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 entitles certain categories of persons to make a claim for compensation to reflect their loss of financial dependency on the deceased. These include spouses, civil partners and children of the deceased.
Section 1(3)(b) of the 1976 Act allows cohabitees to make a claim for compensation 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.
The Relationship: Living Together, Cohabiting, What Does It Mean?
The fact that people cohabit and live together does not mean that they are a couple who have intended that the relationship was akin to a ‘husband and wife’ situation. There must be some sort of criteria, a formula if you like, that demonstrates to others and the court that they were indeed living or cohabiting together with that intention.
Several factors that can help determine if couples who are not married or in a Civil Partnership and may be useful to satisfy the court that they were cohabitants under the law. Some examples found outside of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 are below:
- The Family Law Act
Section 62(1) of the Family Law Act 1996 defines “cohabitants”, for the purpose of eligibility to apply for occupation and non-molestation orders, as two persons who are neither married to each other nor civil partners of each other but who are living together as husband and wife or as if they were civil partners.
- Couples Cohabiting – Adopting Children
Couples are defined as two people (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship.
- Common Factors for Living Together to Satisfy a Claim for Bereavement Compensation.
It appears that the common factor, to be summarised in a short sentence can be typically described as ‘an enduring sexual or intimate relationship to the exclusion of all others.’ The most common formula uses the “marriage analogy”, while some more recent legislation has referred to “partners in an enduring family relationship“.
Bereavement Award and The Fatal Accidents Act 1976
The criteria in the provision of the FAA 1976 for couples ‘living together’ as husband and wife can be broken down into their component parts as below:
The Courts have made clear that the relevant phrase for consideration is “household” and not “house”; thus it is not sufficient to show that a claimant was merely living under the same roof as the deceased.
The case of Gully v Dix  EWCA Civ 139 involved a claimant who sought to make an application for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. While this case was decided under different legislation, the criteria to be established was largely the same; the claimant had to demonstrate that she was living in the same household as the deceased during the whole of the period of two years immediately before the date of his death. In considering this case, the judge commented that:
“they will be in the same household if they are tied by their relationship. The tie of that relationship may be manifest by various elements, not simply their living under the same roof, but the public and private acknowledgement of their mutual society, and the mutual protection and support that binds them together”
In another case Churchill v Roach  EWHC 3230 (Ch), the judge in defining “living in the same household” said that it seems to
“have elements of permanence, to involve a consideration of the frequency and intimacy of contact, to contain an element of mutual support, to require some consideration of the degree of voluntary restraint upon personal freedom which each party undertakes and to involve an element of community of resources”
Thus a person seeking to make a claim for compensation under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 would need not only to show that they were living with the deceased, but also provide evidence as to the permanence and stability of their relationship.
This may include things such as shared bills and bank accounts, as well as other household arrangements – for example cooking, laundry, reminders of appointments and so on. While some of these factors may simply be indicative of a strong friendship, the combination of all factors must point to a deep-rooted bond and an element of exclusivity.
For example in the case of Swetenham v Walkley & Bryce  WTLR 845, the deceased and the claimant would attend social events as a couple, and the claimant would do the deceased’s washing while the deceased would pay for meals when they went out. They would support each other when ill. Although the defendants argued that they had merely been close and mutually supportive friends, the judge held that the couple had a mutuality of support and understanding to the extent that they would put each other before other friends.
In addition to the internal nature of the relationship, the external nature will also be relevant; in other words, the extent to which the claimant and deceased presented themselves publicly as living together in a sustained relationship. In Pounder v London Underground Ltd  PIQR 217 (referred to in Kortke v Saffarinig  where the claimant girlfriend of the deceased was entitled to claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, the strength of her case was her ability to rely on independent witness evidence giving the strong impression that the witnesses believed the deceased to be living at the claimant’s flat.
2. Separate houses
An important principle to be drawn from the above case of Pounder is that the claimant and deceased were held to be living in the same household despite the fact that the deceased had retained his mother’s address for all official documents.
A similar situation occurred in Lindop v Agus  EWHC 1795 (Ch), decided under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, in that the claimant lived as the deceased’s wife in the same household while retaining a different address for official correspondence. The court held that the fact that bank statements and other documents were sent to a different address was not in itself enough to defeat her claim and there was sufficient corroboration from witness evidence to find that they had lived in the same household.
Thus in the case of Kotke v Saffarini  EWCA Civ 221, the judge commented that
“It is clear from the authorities that in principle a person may be a member of household A, albeit he has a second house or home elsewhere at B to which he departs temporarily from time to time”
In that case, the claimant brought a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 after her partner was killed in a road traffic accident. In the years prior to the accident, the claimant and the deceased had owned and lived in separate properties in Sheffield and Doncaster, staying together at weekends.
Although the judge considered that the retention of the deceased’s house in Doncaster was not in itself a barrier to establishing the criteria for the claimant’s claim, what did invalidate her claim was the fact that the deceased himself considered himself as resident at his Doncaster address and indicated that he and the claimant had not yet reached the position of treating the Sheffield address as their mutual home.
In fact, the deceased had kept his wardrobe and possessions at his home in Doncaster, and only really began to plan a life with the claimant after she discovered that she was pregnant. However, the legislation requires that the claimant and deceased to have lived together for two years prior the date of the deceased’s death, and the pregnancy was discovered less than two years prior to his death.
These cases demonstrate that the fact that the claimant and deceased had separate houses or addresses will not automatically prevent the claimant from proving that they had lived in the same household as required by the legislation. More important are the intentions of the couple themselves and the nature of the relationship as a whole.
3. Brief Periods of Absence
It follows, then, that brief periods of absence will not break the continuity of “living together”. In the case of Pounder, the judge accepted that the deceased may have returned to his parents’ house for a week or so at a time but he was still able to find that the claimant and deceased had lived together at the claimant’s home. In addition, the judge found that although in the year before the accident in which the deceased was killed the claimant had gone to a woman’s refuge for a period of 3-4 months this did not break the period of living together. Evidence showed that the claimant had returned home regularly and stayed overnight.
In Gully v Dix  EWCA Civ 139, concerning similar provisions under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, the claimant had been living separately from the deceased in the three months preceding his death. This separation was in response to an incident in which the deceased had threatened to kill himself. In finding that the claimant and deceased had nevertheless been living in the same household, the court considered that regard was to be had to the “settled state of affairs during the relationship and not the immediate de facto situation prevailing before the deceased’s death”.
Thus in the same vein as the reasoning which underpins the approach taken with separate houses, the mere fact of an absence will not negate the “living together” element of the legislation. The intention of the parties will be more determinative and a court may find that a person was living in the same household as the deceased even if they were living separately at times if it can be demonstrated that there was no settled intention that the relationship was at an end; it was merely suspended.
4. Civil Partners
While the legislation previously referred to the need to demonstrate that the claimant and deceased had been living together “as husband and wife”, growing acceptance of same-sex relationships led to an amendment being made in 2004 to the effect that cohabiting same-sex couples can also bring a claim for compensation under section 1(3)(b).
There are no separate requirements for same-sex cohabitees; the same criteria that must be established by cohabitees advancing their claims as husband and wife apply. Thus a claimant must demonstrate a relationship that goes beyond casual and produce evidence to show that it was sufficiently permanent and constant, both privately and publicly.
So far this article has dealt with the ability to bring a claim for compensation flowing from the claimant’s loss of financial dependency on the deceased. This entitlement is calculated on a case-by-case basis and beyond establishing that they fall within a particular class of persons entitled to bring a claim, the claimant must also show that they have or will have suffered a loss. For example, a claimant may claim compensation where they can show that they have suffered a loss of prospective earnings or pension. The court may also take into account non-material losses, such as the loss of the deceased’s role in family life – these include things such as birthday presents for children or the fact that the deceased regularly carried out DIY or gardening around the house.
However, in addition to this entitlement, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 also introduced the Bereavement Award, a one-off payment of £15,120 to be paid to certain relatives. Currently this award is limited to the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased. The only exception is where the deceased was a minor, in which case his or her parents may be entitled to the Bereavement Award.
Therefore, as the law stands, cohabitees are not able to claim compensation for bereavement under the 1976 Act.
This provision has been widely criticised, particularly in light of the fact that more and more young couples are choosing cohabitation rather than the more traditional route of marriage. Where a couple has cohabited for years and may even have started a family together it seems unjust to deny them the Bereavement Award solely on the basis that they have not entered into a formal marriage. The inequity becomes even starker when you consider that a couple who have been married for just several months and have no children will be entitled to the Bereavement Award should one of them die.
However, the law may be set to change after the recent ruling in Smith v (1) Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (2) Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and (3) The Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 1916.
In this case, the claimant, Ms Smith, and the deceased, Mr Bulloch, had cohabited for 11 years before his death in October 2011 after he had contracted an infection following a hospital procedure. The NHS Trusts admitted that they were to blame but argued that Ms Smith was not entitled to the Bereavement Award as she and Mr Bulloch had not been married.
Ms Smith argued that in denying cohabitees from claiming the Bereavement Award, the legislation breached her human rights, namely Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 ECHR protects the right to respect for private and family life while Article 14 ECHR provides protection against discrimination. Ms Smith’s argument was that the legislation discriminated against her as an unmarried woman.
The Court of Appeal noted that the Bereavement Award was intended to reflect the grief that flows from intimacy inherent within couples who were married or in a civil partnership. In that respect there was no distinction between couples in a marriage or civil partnership, and couples who were cohabiting.
Just as the right of civil partners to claim bereavement damages had been added by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to reflect the growing incidence of same-sex relationships and the need to protect their right under Article 8 ECHR, so too does the law need to reflect the fact that cohabitation can and does give rise to intimate and long-term relationships which stand to be compensated for the grief experienced when one party dies due to the fault of a third party.
The Court in Smith issued a section 4(2) declaration under the Human Rights Act 1998 to the effect that section 1A of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 is incompatible with the ECHR. While this does not in itself change the law, it paves the way for Parliament to amend the legislation in order to allow cohabitees to be awarded bereavement damages.
Checklist of Living Together as a Couple
From what has been read and considered a useful check list to determine if the survivor of a couple were living together as ‘husband and wife’ can be found in the Law Commissions report on defining unmarried couples & Family Life:
Factors to include the following:
(1) the duration of the relationship;
(2) the nature of the relationship;
(3) the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
(4) the nature and extent of common residence;
(5) whether the parties maintained a common household;
(6) whether or not the parties had a sexual relationship;
(7) the emotional or physical intimacy of the parties’ relationship;
(8) the extent of financial interdependence or dependence, if any;
(9) the extent to which any financial dependence was encouraged or fostered by the relationship;
(10) the ownership, use and acquisition of property;
(11) the performance of household duties;
(12) whether the parties have or care for children, either of both or one of them;
(13) the reputation and public aspects of the relationship;
(14) oral or written statements or promises made to each other, or representations made jointly to third parties, regarding their relationship;
(15) the extent to which the parties acknowledged responsibilities to each other, for example, by naming the other as eligible to receive benefits under an employee-benefit plan; and
(16) the parties’ participation in a commitment ceremony or registration as a domestic partnership.
Q: my partner has died what rights do I have?
A: If you are not married, it depends on whether a Will was left; the Will dictates how their Estate (everything they own) is divided. If a Will is not made, you may not have any right to inherit from your partners Estate because of the inheritance law: ‘Rules of Intestacy’.
Q: Do unmarried couples have the same rights as married couples?
A: No, the law in England and Wales doesn’t give unmarried couples the same rights as married couples, the length of time you are together is irrelevant. A Will is the most viable way of protecting yourself before a loved one dies.
Q: What rights do cohabiting couples have when their partner dies?
A: Being in a so called ‘common law’ partnership will not give couples any legal protection whatsoever, and so under the law, if your partner dies and you are not married, then you have no right to inherit anything unless your partner that has passed had left a Will.
Q: What if my partner died without a will?
A: The Rules of Intestacy say that their inheritance goes to their closest living blood relatives in a specific order. If your partner does not have a Will, they’re classed as dying intestate and the Rules of Intestacy will apply.
Q: Does that mean I can’t inherit anything?
A: No, if your partner dies, you can still make a claim on their estate; whether they have a Will or not. For example, if you shared a join bank account, you would automatically get any money in those accounts as this will not form part of the Estate. If you are Joint Tenants on a property, your late partner’s share will pass to you under the Rights of Survivorship.
The law on the rights of cohabitees when one dies in an accident found to be the fault of a third party is gradually coming in line with modern society and the social acceptance of the legitimacy of cohabiting couples. Cohabitees may claim compensation for loss of dependency provided they are able to demonstrate that they lived in the same household as the deceased. Each case will be judged on its own specific facts but the underlying principle is that claimants must show that they were in a relationship of sufficient intimacy and permanence, taking into account the relationship as a whole and how they conducted themselves both privately for themselves and publicly for the outside world to witness.
As it stands, cohabitees are not entitled to a Bereavement Award; however, this will change in the near future. In response to Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the Government laid a proposed draft Remedial Order before Parliament on the 8th May 2019 designed to extend the right of bereavement damages to cohabiting couples. Just how long before this becomes law remains to be seen but it is certainly a step in the right direction.