Unmarried mother in court fight over widowed parent’s allowance

John Adams, (centre) who died in 2014, with his four children Rebecca, Billy, Lisa and Stuart (Family handout/PA) Credit: Press Association Images

An unmarried mother at the centre of a legal battle to access widowed parent’s allowance has said she hopes her fight will help other families.

Siobhan McLaughlin, 46, from Armoy in Co Antrim, is to have her case heard by the Supreme Court when it sits in Northern Ireland for the first time on Monday.

She said: “It is wrong that a child born out of wedlock is not seen as deserving as one born to a married couple.”

Ms McLaughlin, a special needs classroom assistant was with her partner John Adams, a groundsman, for 23 years.

The couple had four children together – Rebecca, 15, Billy, 16, Lisa, 21 and Stuart, 23.

When Mr Adams died from cancer in January 2014 his partner was refused the bereavement payment and widowed parent’s allowance because they were not married or in a civil partnership.

Ms McLaughlin, who had to supplement her income by taking on additional evening cleaning work, said: “It is heartbreaking to even contemplate the difference this could have made.

“It might just have made life slightly easier. It might have meant that I could have been at home every night to prepare the supper as I had been when John was here.

“But, because I had to go back to work I am no longer there – so not only did they lose their dad they also lost me and that stability.

“But, I have to provide for them, to pay the rent for the house and you have to go on and that’s hard.”

Ms McLaughlin applied for a judicial review of the decision claiming unlawful discrimination based on her marital status.

She won her original court case but it was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

She added: “I get that the benefit is called a widowed parent’s allowance and that the child element is branched within that. I get I am not allowed to class myself as a widow.

“It was a family unit. The children have John’s surname, his name is on their birth certificates.”

Ms McLaughlin’s is expected to travel to Belfast with her children for the hearing.

“Win or lose it has brought the issue to the forefront of people’s minds. It is something that many people were not aware of,” she said.

Meanwhile, solicitor Jo Edwards, said: “Siobhan McLaughlin’s case once again brings into sharp focus the different treatment of unmarried couples, compared to their married counterparts, when their relationship ends through separation or death.

“This is the third high profile case in the past year in which the treatment of unmarried couples on the death of one has been tested, and in the last two – Denise Brewster and Jakki Smith – the existing position was found to be discriminatory and contrary to the parties’ human rights.

“In Siobhan McLaughlin’s case, the fact that she is not entitled to bereavement benefits has left her four children in poverty because of the different treatment by the state of their parents’ relationship than if they had married. In a civilised society, that cannot be right.

“State benefits are available to co-habiting couples during their lifetime; there is no good reason why they shouldn’t be afforded the same treatment on death.”