Bereavement support payment

Issue 257 (April 2017)

Gwyneth King describes a new benefit for bereavement.

Introduction

Bereavement support payment is the new bereavement benefit for people whose spouse or civil partner dies on or after 6 April 2017. At the time of writing, most (though not all) of the relevant legislation had been published.1

Who can get bereavement support payment

A claimant qualifies if:

  • s/he is a widow, widower or surviving civil partner; and
  • her/his spouse or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017; and
  • the late spouse or civil partner either satisfied the national insurance (NI) condition or was an employed earner and died as a result of an industrial injury or disease; and
  • the claimant is under pension age and is ordinarily resident in Great Britain.

If the death was before 6 April 2017, the claimant may still be entitled to the old bereavement benefits (widowed parent’s allowance or bereavement allowance, and a bereavement payment).

National insurance condition

In any one tax year of her/his working life, the late spouse or civil partner must have paid class 1 or 2 NI contributions, producing an earnings factor of at least 25 times that year’s lower earnings limit.

Claims and backdating

Claims can be made by telephoning the DWP’s Bereavement Service, in writing (normally using the claim form) or online at www.gov.uk.

Bereavement support payment is automatically backdated for up to three months.2 As it can only be paid for a maximum period ending 18 months after the spouse or civil partner’s date of death,3 this means the claim needs to be made within three months of the date of death in order to qualify for a maximum award. Also, the claim needs to be made within 12 months of the date of death to qualify for the initial lump sum.4

Payment

Bereavement support payment is paid monthly in arrears, on the same day of the month as the date of the death of the spouse or civil partner. It comprises a lump-sum payment in the firstmonth and monthly payments5 payable for a maximum period of 18 months.6

There are two rates of bereavement support payment:7

  • the standard rate, with an initial lump sum of £2,500 and a monthly amount of £100; and
  • the higher rate, with an initial lump sum of £3,500 and a monthly amount of £350.

The higher rate is payable to pregnant women and those with dependent children.8

Positives

In comparison to ‘old’ bereavement benefits, bereavement support payment offers several positives.

Simplification

Bereavement support payment has a uniform payment structure, requiring just one claim. The initial lump sum replaces a bereavement payment, and the monthly payments replace bereavement allowance or widowed parent’s allowance.

There is a single NI contribution condition, which is relatively easy to satisfy – there are no complicated proportionate rate reduction rules that apply if the spouse or civil partner had an incomplete contribution record.

There is no age-related reduction in the rate payable that applies if the claimant was aged under a certain age when her/his spouse or civil partner died.

Benefit cap

Bereavement support payment is not included in the assessment of benefit income which is subject to the benefit cap.9

Disregards

The initial lump sum of bereavement support payment is disregarded as capital for means-tested benefits, including universal credit, and the ongoing allowance is disregarded as income. Bereavement support payment is also disregarded when assessing entitlement to tax credits.

No overlap

Bereavement support payment can be paid concurrently with contribution-based job-seeker’s allowance or contributory employment support allowance – there is no ‘overlap’.

New partners

Starting cohabiting with someone else, remarrying, or forming a new civil partnership does not affect entitlement to bereavement support payment.

Not taxable

Bereavement support payment is not taxable.

Higher initial lump sum

Both rates of the initial lump sum of bereavement support payment are higher than the rate of a bereavement payment under the old bereavement benefit system (that being £2,000); the higher rate is almost double.

Negatives

Reduced award period

Unlike under the old bereavement benefits system, whereby a parent could continue to receive widowed parent’s allowance for as long as s/he had a dependent child, bereavement support payment is only payable for a maximum of 18 months.

Reduced rate of ongoing monthly allowance

Both the monthly rates of bereavement support payment are lower than their old bereavement benefit counterparts. The reduction is most marked for claimants who are not pregnant or who do not have dependent children: someone whose spouse or civil partner died before 6 April 2017 could receive up to £113.70 a week in widowed parent’s allowance or bereavement allowance, whereas the higher rate of the monthly amountofbereavementsupport payment only equates to £80.77 a week, and the lower rate to £23.08 a week.

Continuance of old bereavement benefits

People whose spouse or civil partner died before 6 April 2017 cannot claim bereavement support payment.10Those already in receipt of bereavement allowance or widowed parent’s allowance on that date will continue to receive it for the lifetime of the award.

It is possible to make a new claim for old bereavement benefits, if the spouse or civil partner died before 6 April 2017. For a bereavement payment and bereavement allowance, this is subject to the usual 12-month time limit, starting with the date of death.

Funeral expenses payments

Funeral expenses payments remain separate

to bereavement benefits, as part of the social fund. The government has, however, agreed to look into the cost of funerals, in response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s recommendation thatfuneral poverty also be addressed.11

A missed opportunity

Regrettably, as part of its overhaul of bereavement benefits, the government rejected a call from the Work and Pensions Committee to extend bereavement benefit entitlement to co-habiting bereaved parents who were not married or in a civil partnership;12 the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has also overturned a High Court ruling that this exclusion amounted to unjustifiable discrimination.13

Comment

Bereavement support payment undoubtedly simplifiesthebereavementsupportsystem, and ismoregenerousthanoldbereavementbenefits in some ways. However, it is disappointing that the overhaul did not tackle funeral poverty, that widowed parents will often have support withdrawn far sooner, that bereaved parents who were not married or in a civil partnership remain excluded, and that, for many, the amountpaid in total will be considerably less than would have been paid in old bereavement benefits.


Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. Part 5 of Pensions Act 2014 (‘PA 2014’); The Bereavement Support Payment Regulations 2017, No.410 (‘BSP Regs’); reg 5 of The Pensions Act 2014 (Commencement No.9) and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 (Commencement No.4) Regulations 2017, No.111; Arts 3, 4 and 5 of The Pensions Act 2014 (Commencement No.10) Order 2017, No.297;The Pensions Act 2014 (Consequential, Supplementary and Incidental Amendments) Order 2017, No.422
  • 2. Reg 2(2) BSP Regs
  • 3. Reg 2(3) BSP Regs
  • 4. Reg 3(2) and (5) BSP Regs
  • 5. Reg 3 BSP Regs
  • 6. Reg 2(3) BSP Regs
  • 7. Reg 3 BSP Regs
  • 8. Reg 4 BSP Regs
  • 9. Regs 75A, 75C and 75G of The Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, No.213 and reg 79 of The Universal Credit Regulations 2013, No.376 have not been amended to include bereavement support payment as a ‘specified benefit’.
  • 10. s30(6) PA 2014
  • 11. www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work...
  • 12. See note 11
  • 13. McLaughlin, Re Judicial Review [2016] NICA 53