The partner of an Oxfordshire cyclist killed when he was hit by a car has called for a change in the law to allow unmarried couples access to bereavement payments.
Nicola Saunders says she was stunned to find she was not entitled to claim a bereavement award after the death of her long term partner Joe Wilkins in May last year because they were not married.
Ms Saunders, 40, from Eynsham, believes the lack of access to the fund for unmarried couples could have devastating consequences for many cohabiting couples if they lose a partner.
The administration assistant has now called for the law to be changed to allow unmarried couples to be given the same rights as those who have wed.
Mum-of-two Ms Saunders said, “Joe and I had been a couple for more than seven years, we lived together and have two children yet in the eyes of the law our relationship was not as serious as a couple who had known and married in five minutes.
“Joe and I had discussed marriage but we decided to wait until the girls were a little bit older before we did it so they could enjoy the day. In truth I only wanted to get married so I could take his name, I didn’t realise that by not being husband and wife we would suffer if one of us died. I have been very fortunate as Joe was an intelligent man who had set things up for the future however if he hadn’t we could have lost our home, everything.”
Ms Saunders added, “The fact is there are a lot of couples who cannot afford to get married or do not see it as a priority but if the worst happens they will be totally unprotected and that is not right. Society is moving forwards, civil partnerships are now recognised in the same way married couples are but it is about time that unmarried couples were also given those rights in the eyes of the law.”
The Bereavement Award, which is part of the Fatal Accidents Act, is a form of compensation which can be claimed by the surviving spouse up to the value of £12,980.
However the surviving member of an unmarried couple is not entitled to make a claim from the fund regardless of how long they have been together or if they have children.
The previous Government had agreed to review the Fatal Accidents Act but these plans were dropped by the coalition government in January 2011.
Ms Saunders’ solicitor, Slater and Gordon Personal Injury Lawyer Paul Kitson, backed her calls for a change in the law claiming it ‘no longer reflects the realities of modern life,’
Mr Kitson said, “Nicola’s case is one in a growing number in which unmarried partners are unfairly treated when it comes to compensation following the loss of a loved one. In modern society many couples, for a variety of reasons choose not to marry yet unbeknown to them they are unable to access many of the benefits married couples and civil partnership are entitled to.
“It is clear to me that The Fatal Accidents Act, which was passed in 1976, no longer reflects the realities of modern life. Society has changed and it is time the law changed with it.”
Following her husband’s death, Ms Saunders instructed law firm Slater and Gordon and is now set to receive an undisclosed settlement subject to court approval. Her case was backed by national cycling charity CTC.
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