More families will be entitled to financial support following the death of a spouse or civil partner, from 6 April this year.
The new ‘bereavement support payment’ will replace the current complicated system of the bereavement payment; the ‘bereavement allowance’ and the ‘widowed parent’s allowance’.
Unlike the bereavement allowance, which was only payable to people over the age of 45, the new bereavement support payment will be available to anybody that loses a spouse or civil partner up to state pension age. Support will also be extended from 12 to 18 months. The benefit will not be taxed and will be disregarded when working out entitlement to means-tested benefits.
Announcing the changes, Caroline Noakes, Minister for welfare delivery says: “Losing a spouse or civil partner can be devastating and we want to provide people with easily accessible support to help them through the difficult period following bereavement.
“The old system could be unfair, complex and also act as trap preventing people from moving on with their lives. That’s why we are modernising this support into a simple, uniform and easy-to-understand benefit that better reflects society and helps people through what can be a very difficult time.”
How much will the new system pay?
The new benefit will pay widows and widowers with children an initial lump sum of £3,500, while those without children will get £2,500. This will be followed by 18 monthly payments of £350 for those with children or £100 for those without.
However, while the new benefit extends financial support to younger people that would not previously have been entitled to claim, older widows and widowers may receive less overall as a result.
Currently claimants over the age of 45 receive a bereavement payment of £2,000 plus a bereavement allowance that pays a weekly payment for one year to widows and widowers without children. The amount you get depends on the deceased’s national insurance contributions and the widow or widower’s age. The maximum amount for a 45-year old is £33.77 a week rising to £112.55 for those aged over 55.
Claimants with children claim the widowed parents allowance which currently pays a maximum of £112.55 a week, depending on the deceased’s national insurance contributions. The payments last for one year and you must be in receipt of child benefit to claim.
The Department of Work and Pensions says that the new benefit is not designed to replace a spouse’s earnings, but to help meet the immediate and additional costs that widows and widowers may face.
Bereavement benefits were originally introduced in 1925 in the Widows and Orphans Act, with an aim to help replace widows who were reliant on their deceased husband’s income. In 2001, the benefit was extended to widowers.
Widows and widowers already in receipt of bereavement benefits will not be affected by the change.