Solicitor in McLaughlin case welcomes MPs’ call for ‘urgent’ action on bereavement benefits

Laura Banks
Laura Banks

Belfast solicitor Laura Banks has welcomed a report by MPs criticising the UK government’s failure to act following a landmark UK Supreme Court decision on Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

Ms Banks, of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors, acted for Siobhan McLaughlin in her successful challenge to the rules governing the payment of the bereavement benefit.

Ms McLaughlin was refused Widowed Parent’s Allowance after the death of her partner in January 2014, with whom she had lived for 23 years, because she was neither married to him nor his civil partner at the date of his death.

The case was heard by UK Supreme Court justices in May 2018 during its historic first-ever sitting in Belfast, and the court eventually ruled in Ms McLaughlin’s favour in August 2018 by a 4-1 majority.

In a new report, the House of Commons work and pensions select committee said the government has “acted too slowly in response to the McLaughlin judgment”.

Committee chair Frank Field said: “Cohabiting families have been waiting 14 months for the government to make up their mind following their defeat in the Supreme Court.

“It is risible for ministers to claim that ‘cohabitation is a complex concept’ while applying it when it suits them in the rest of the benefits system. All the while, suffering is heaped on suffering for bereaved children.

“The government has allowed this terrible injustice to go on far too long: it must make it right, and urgently.”

Ms Banks added: “We welcome and agree with this report in its entirety. It is quite incredible that our government is continuing to knowingly apply an unlawful, discriminatory policy to bereaved parents and their children, without having made any steps to rectify it.

“Bereaved children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and deserve, like everyone else, to be treated in a way that complies with the law. One wonders how many more thousands of families will be pushed into poverty and indeed have to mount their own legal challenges before the government will do the right thing.”

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