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Bereavement benefits provide additional support to people of working age on the death of their husband, wife or civil partner. They are entirely separate from Social Fund funeral payments.  From April 2001 a new system of bereavement benefits was introduced comprising the Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance, and Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

Coalition Government consultation on bereavement benefit reform

In 2011 the Coalition Government launched a consultation on major changes to bereavement benefits, with the aim of moving towards a simpler, more uniform structure focusing support on the period immediately following bereavement. The Government subsequently announced that it intended to replace the three existing bereavement benefits with a single benefit to be known as Bereavement Support Payment.  Part 5 of the Pensions Act 2014 introduced the new benefit in Great Britain (equivalent provision is made in the Pensions Act (Northern Ireland) 2015).  More detailed rules are set out in the Bereavement Support Regulations 2017.  BSP replaced the existing bereavement benefits for surviving spouses and civil partners widowed on or after 6 April 2017.

Bereavement Support Payment: key features

Bereavement Support Payment comprises an initial lump-sum payment of £3,500 for those with dependent children followed by 18 monthly payments of £350; and a lump-sum payment of £2,500 plus 18 monthly payments of £100 for those without children. Entitlement is determined using simplified National Insurance contribution conditions.  All payments are tax-free, do not affect entitlement to other benefits including Universal Credit and do not count towards the household benefit cap.  Unlike the previous bereavement benefits remarriage or re-partnering will not disqualify a person from BSP.

Responses to the proposals

Stakeholders welcomed some aspects of the new system including increased lump sums, simpler and easier to understand rules, and providing help regardless of age. There is however concern that those with children, in particular those with younger children, will be disproportionately badly affected by the new benefit as they would previously have been able to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance on an ongoing basis.  The Government extended the duration of Bereavement Support Payment from 12 to 18 months in response to representations from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee and others, but the Childhood Bereavement Network put forward alternative cost-neutral proposals to spread payments over three years for those with children.

Ongoing concerns

Other concerns voiced by organisations working with bereaved people include:

  • The Government’s decision not to extend BSP to people who were cohabiting but were not married or in a civil partnership.
  • While the Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance are uprated annually in line with prices, the Pensions Act 2014 does not require annual uprating of the BSP.
  • The Universal Credit “conditionality” requirements for bereaved parents. Surviving partners in receipt of UC are not subject to any work-related requirements for the first six months following bereavement.  Those with children may in certain circumstances request further temporary suspensions to the conditionality, but it is argued that this would be burdensome for families and for DWP Work Coaches alike and that bereaved parents should be exempt from conditionality for a longer period.

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