With effect from 6 October 2020, cohabiting partners became eligible to claim bereavement damages for the loss of a partner, in a fatal accident claim against a third party. This brings their status in line with husbands, wives and civil partners. To qualify, cohabiting partners must have been continuously living “as the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased”, in the same household as them, for at least two years before the date of death.
The new legislation rectifies a previous incompatibility between s1A of The Fatal Accident Act 1976 and articles 14 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This incompatibility, in excluding co-habiting partners from making bereavement awards, was confirmed by the 2017 decision of the Court of Appeal in Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.
The new legislation does not have retrospective effect.
The bereavement award increased from £12,980 to £15,120 on 1 May 2020. Where more than one person qualifies, it is to be divided equally between eligible Claimants.
The list of those qualifying for a bereavement award under section 1A remains narrower than the category of those who can claim dependency damages under section 1 of the Act. For example, children and siblings of the deceased may be eligible to pursue dependency claims, but remain ineligible for bereavement damages awards under s1A.
This is an important, incremental expansion of the class of eligible claimants for bereavement damages awards. However it may not, of itself, have a significant impact on the value of local authorities’ books of claims.
In July 2019 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report recommended the government undertake a broad review of the classes of those eligible for bereavement damages awards. Since this has not taken place, the debate will no doubt continue and the status quo may be challenged in the courts.
If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please contact Adrian Neale.