A recent rule change means that parents whose partners died between April 2001 and February 2023 could qualify for backdated bereavement benefits worth thousands of pounds.
Last year, the government extended eligibility for bereavement support payment and widowed parent's allowance to cohabiting parents with dependent children. These benefits were previously only available to families where the parents were married or in a civil partnership.
The change means that tens of thousands of parents could claim a back payment for bereavements dating back to 2001 - but you need to apply by 11.59pm, 8 February 2024.
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We explain the rules on bereavement benefits, who qualifies for a back payment and how much it might be worth.
What’s changed with bereavement benefits?
Bereavement support payment (BSP) offers financial help to spouses and civil partners after the death of their partner. It was introduced in 2017, and replaced the widowed parent's allowance (WPA).
However, a 2018 Supreme Court ruling found that the exclusion of unmarried parents with dependent children was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The law was changed in February 2023 to make cohabiting couples with dependent children eligible for BSP and WPA.
As a result, the Department for Work and Pensions opened a 12-month window for bereaved partners to make a claim for BSP or WPA backdated to 30 August 2018, when the court ruling was announced.
To take advantage of this, they must have been bereaved before 9 February 2023.
According to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC, an estimated 17,000 widowed parents are eligible for bereavement support payments.
But only about 5,000 people have applied so far, leaving an estimated £175m waiting to be claimed.
Who is eligible to make a claim?
Parents could be eligible for BSP or WPA depending on the date their partner died.
If you were bereaved between 6 April 2017 and 8 February 2023, you might be able to get backdated payments for BSP if: when your partner died, you were living together as if you were married, and you were under state pension age on 30 August 2018.
Additionally, you must have either been pregnant when your partner died or had a child living with you, plus you must have got child benefit for that child (or were told you were entitled to it) between when your partner died and when you make your claim.
Your partner must also have either paid National Insurance contributions or died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work.
If your partner died between 9 April 2001 and 5 April 2017, you might be able to get backdated WPA instead.
The criteria for this is similar to backdated BSP. There is more information on the government website.
How much is the backdated bereavement benefit worth?
The amount you can get depends on the benefit you're eligible for.
BSP pays a one-off lump sum of £2,500 (£3,500 if you're entitled to child benefit), and up to 18 monthly payments of £100 (£350 if entitled to child benefit), so you could receive a maximum of £4,300 or £9,800 depending on whether you have children.
The payments are tax-free, and are not means-tested.
For WPA back payments, the amount you get is based on how much your partner paid in National Insurance contributions (unless your partner died due to a work accident or a disease caused by work).
The maximum WPA is currently £139.10 a week before tax (£7,233 a year), but it is lower in previous tax years. The benefit can be claimed until you are no longer entitled to child benefit, you reach state pension age or you marry, enter a civil partnership or a cohabiting partnership.
So, if your child was young (or not yet born) when your partner died, your backdated claim could be worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Note, that unlike BSP, the widow's parent's allowance is taxable.
Also, your backdated payment might be lower if you received other benefits while eligible for WPA. In addition, a backdated WPA payment could impact your current benefits.
Payments can only be backdated to 30 August 2018, even if a partner died before this date.
How do I make a claim?
BSP claims can be made online on gov.uk, over the phone (0800 151 2012) or through a paper application form. Online applications can be submitted up until 11.59pm on 8 February, whereas the call centre closes at 6pm so make sure you call before then.
You’ll need your National Insurance number, bank or building society account details, date your partner died, and their National Insurance number.
WPA claims are only processed using paper forms. These are available to download from the widowed parent's allowance gov.uk website, or you can request them via the Bereavement Service helpline (0800 151 2012).
What happens if I miss the deadline?
Cohabiting bereaved parents eligible for BSP who claim after the 8 February deadline could still receive some monthly payments if they apply by 8 November, but they will not get the full amount.
If parents claim after 8 November 2024, they will not receive any payments.
If parents claim for WPA after 8 February 2024, they will not receive any payments because the 12-month window to claim will have ended.
Ruth is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times.
A multi-award winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service.
Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.
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