MSE News

Gov.uk info misleads bereaved parents into thinking they're entitled to £1,000s in support – MSE calls for urgent clarification

Unmarried bereaved parents have been left saddened and confused after claims for financial support were rejected or they got less than they were initially entitled to. Both problems are due to misleading info on Gov.uk about the support. MoneySavingExpert.com has written to the Government urging it to clarify its guidance to help prevent further confusion among claimants.

Bereavement support payments, also known as "widowed parent's allowance" prior to 2017, are cash payments made by the state to help reduce the financial impact of losing a partner. They are available UK-wide but, until earlier this year, were only available if you were married or in a civil partnership. However, a landmark law change in February 2023 means that 10,000s of bereaved cohabiting parents are also now eligible for help.

And, for a limited time, this can be backdated to 2001 – but you need to apply by 8 February 2024. See our Bereavement support payments guide for more on this. 

If you've made a claim for backdated bereavement payments, whether good or bad, please tell us about your experience by emailing campaigns@moneysavingexpert.com

Unclear eligibility information on Gov.uk is causing disappointment

There are two problems at play here:

  1. BACKDATED CLAIMS: The first is that the eligibility criteria on Gov.uk is not clear and we believe this is misleading bereaved parents into thinking they qualify for retrospective payments when sadly they don't.

    Specifically, the information on Gov.uk doesn't make the twin eligibility criteria clear, which is that you must be entitled to Child Benefit BOTH when your partner died AND on 30 August 2018. This date is when the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful not to award bereavement benefits to the survivor of an unmarried couple, though this ruling didn't take force in practice until 9 February 2023. 

    As a result, unmarried bereaved parents who were eligible for Child Benefit when their partner died, but not on 30 August 2018, are believing themselves eligible for support, only to find their claims are being rejected – as the examples below from MoneySavers show.

  2. NEW CLAIMS: The second issue relates to when new claims need to be made by in order to receive the full amount of support. 

    New bereavement support payments are paid in two ways – an initial lump sum, followed by up to 18 monthly payments. How quickly you submit your claim after the bereavement dictates how much of each element you receive, if any. There is a 21-month deadline you must claim by to get any support. 

    For those who are married or in a civil partnership, this 21-month deadline is mentioned on Gov.uk. But it isn't made clear what this means in monetary terms, just that "you might get less than the usual 18 monthly payments". Meanwhile for newly bereaved unmarried parents, there is no mention whatsoever of the 21-month deadline on Gov.uk.

    We're concerned that this lack of clarity could result in people failing to claim immediately and therefore not getting the full support they might have initially been entitled to, or sadly leaving it too late to claim anything – as happened in the example below.

Read MSE's letter to the DWP in full

Below is a copy of the original letter MSE sent to the DWP on Tuesday 22 August:

The Viscount Younger of Leckie
Cc Mims Davies MP
c/o the Department for Work & Pensions
Caxton House, Tothill St, London SW1H 9NA 

Tuesday 22 August 2023 

Dear Lord Younger of Leckie,

At MoneySavingExpert, we’ve been supporting efforts by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that newly eligible unmarried parents who have lost their partners claim backdated bereavement support payments before the February 2024 deadline. We’ve already heard from people who have thanked us for flagging this change and who have now received thousands in life-changing payments as a result.

However, this has also revealed issues with the information given on the Gov.uk website about eligibility and timings. This is leaving some applicants turned away – an upsetting outcome at an already difficult time – and others potentially receiving a reduced amount of support.

There are two important clarifications that are needed to best help people who’ve lost their partners. We have already been in touch with the DWP to try and clarify some of these points, but the information online remains unclear to those who need to use it.

We are asking for your department to urgently make the following changes to the website, especially in light of the upcoming deadline for backdated claims. We’d also like to see these changes replicated in communications by DWP staff with potential claimants over the phone.
 

  1. Amend the information about backdated claims for newly eligible unmarried parents, making clear that there is a twin requirement to be both entitled to Child Benefit at the time of their partner’s death AND entitled to Child Benefit at or from 30 August 2018 (the date the remedial order came into effect).

    We’ve heard from devastated people who have attempted to make a backdated claim they thought they were entitled to, as they fit all the criteria listed, but who were then told they weren’t eligible. The key issue is that while they were eligible for Child Benefit at the time of their partner’s death, they were no longer eligible for Child Benefit on 30 August 2018 – as their children were effectively too old.

    As I’m sure you can imagine, this has left them extremely disappointed, thinking they would get the same much-needed help as married couples in their position have had, only to have their hopes dashed.

    Since we got in touch with the DWP to clarify this, we understand that a note has been added to say that you must be eligible for Widowed Parent's Allowance (WPA) on or after the 30 August 2018. However, this does not include full eligibility criteria, so we ask that extra detail on the Child Benefit requirement is added to give potential claimants the best possible information at source.

    The website and process could also go further to make it clearer that this twin requirement means that unmarried claimants would only be eligible for a backdated bereavement support payment if they were entitled to Child Benefit and their youngest child was born:

    a)  After 30 August 1998 if they continued full-time education until 20 years old.
    b)  After 30 August 2000 if they left full-time education at 18 years old.
    c)  After 30 August 2002 if they left full-time education at 16 years old.

    At MSE we’ve taken steps to make this clear in our own guide and we would be happy to support the DWP in doing the same.

  2. Make clearer the time frames for new claims for all bereaved parents, explaining that there is a 21-month window to receive payments – meaning the initial sum must be claimed within three months of their partner’s death to get all 18 monthly payments.

    We’ve also heard from recently bereaved parents who have missed out on the bereavement support available, due to not being aware of these requirements.

    It isn’t clear for everyone that – after three months – for every month that goes by without claiming, a month of additional support is lost because payments always end 21 months after their partner died.

    Our understanding is that the rules are the same for both married and unmarried claimants – yet the wording on the Gov.uk website is different for each situation, further adding to the confusion, particularly for newly bereaved, unmarried claimants. 
Webpage For married parents For unmarried parents
Eligibility

You can claim Bereavement Support Payment if your partner died in the last 21 months but you might get less than the usual 18 monthly payments.

You must claim within 3 months of your partner’s death to get the full amount. 

There is no mention of a 21-month time-frame.
What you’ll get
...This is made up of:
- a first payment of £3,500
- up to 18 monthly payments of £350
You must claim within 12 months of your partner’s death to get the first payment. If you claim after this time, you will only get monthly payments.
You may get a first payment of £3,500 and up to 18 monthly payments of £350. To get the first payment of £3,500, you must claim within 12 months of your partner’s death. To get all of the monthly payments, you must claim within 3 months of your partner’s death.

It’s crucial that those bereaved take quick action to claim this benefit in full, so it’s vital that the publicly accessible information, and help given over the phone, is correct, clear and unambiguous.

We very much hope that you will take action quickly to make these changes given the upcoming deadline for backdating, and to ensure that those who’ve suffered this life-changing tragedy have the best chance of claiming all of the payments. It goes without saying that we are happy to support the DWP in this. We look forward to your response. 

Yours faithfully,
Katie Watts
Head of Campaigns, MoneySavingExpert.com 

Parents have told us of their confusion

On the Child Benefit eligibility requirement, disappointed and confused parents have told us:  

Pam emailed: "After seeing on your page about the change in the law, I filled in the forms and applied for backdated payments. My partner died in January 2010 our daughter had just turned 17 years, so at his death I was still receiving Child Benefit.

"Having read the criteria I presumed I had a claim. I had a letter back refusing my claim because my Child Benefit entitlement had ended before 30 August 2018. Nowhere on the DWP site could I see this has a condition of payment. I rang to query this with DWP but was told it was correct and their website needed updating. So sadly I didn’t receive anything."  

Andrea told us: "Our son was receiving Child Benefit when his dad died in September 2002. He was six-years-old. My deceased partner and I lived together from 1994 until his death in 2002. My child benefit ended in 2014 when my son finished college.

"It does not clearly indicate that you have to be in receipt of Child Benefit as of 30 August 2018. I think the decision not to award surviving partners backdated widowed parent's allowance because the child is too old to receive the benefit on the date of the ruling is discriminatory. It should be the date of death. 

"My family and friends feel the DWP decision is not in the spirit of the rule change." 

Michelle wrote in: "I completed a form, waited a few weeks and have just received a letter stating I am not entitled to a payment as I had to be receiving Child Benefit in 2018. I can not see this information anywhere on the Government site... I am very confused." 

There's also confusion about the deadline for new claims

For newly bereaved parents, the lack of clarity around the 21-month deadline online is also leading to further confusion:

Tony wrote in: "I tried the Gov website claim link and was told both times I did not qualify as my claim was more than 21 months after my wife’s death. Is there another way to claim this?" 

What does the Government say?

Following the publication of this story, and the sending of the letter above, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "We know that losing a loved one is devastating and we are dedicated to helping as many eligible parents as possible to benefit from these backdated payments before February 2024.

"We’ve engaged extensively with key stakeholders including bereavement charities to ensure all communications on this law change are clear, proactively updating Gov.uk guidance through continuous monitoring of feedback.

"We will respond to Money Saving Expert’s letter in due course." 

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!