Whole swathes of the population do not have the chance to claim compensation when their close relatives are killed, such as unmarried fathers mourning the loss of their children, personal injury specialists said today in a new report.
Bereavement damages: A dis-United Kingdom, by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) argues that a geographical lottery applies when it comes to bereaved people and wrongful deaths, leaving England and Wales out of step with public sentiment about who should receive compensation.
The report highlighted unmarried fathers, step-parents, parents of adults, brothers and sisters, as well as unmarried couples who had lived together for less than two years, as groups unable to make claims.
Unlike in Scotland, the law “fails to recognise that people who are single and do not have children are still loved, missed, and grieved for by other relatives”, said APIL president Mr Elsby. “It is woefully discriminatory and out-of-date.
He added: “The time for reform to drag the rest of the UK into the 21st century is long overdue but ministers continue to resist change.”
In the report’s introduction he said: “The level of compassion or the amount of support should never depend on whether the bereaved family lives in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. But it does.
“It is a sad reality that the way bereaved families are treated after the wrongful death of a loved one is a postcode lottery.”
The report cited opinion surveys, commissioned by APIL in 2019 and 2020, that found 85% of British adults thought unmarried fathers should be compensated when their child died, nearly 70% thought £15,120 was inadequate compensation, and nearly three-quarters believed compensation should vary according to the facts in each case, as in Scotland.
It quoted a recent Ministry of Justice statement that bereavement damages were only ever meant to be a “token payment”. It never suggested ineligible people were not grieving the deaths in question, the ministry insisted.
The law has changed slowly in recent years. The government extended eligibility to cohabiting couples after the Court of Appeal ruled their exclusion breached the European Convention on Human Rights – but only to those who had been together for more than two years.
In May 2020, statutory bereavement damages were increased in England and Wales.
The report concluded the government’s refusal to consider further reform left the law “unfit for the 21st century”.