The Ministry of Justice has rejected broadening eligibility for bereavement damages despite accusations the current limits are outdated and unfair.
Justice minister Edward Agar said in a written ministerial answer this week that the existing legal framework – stipulating who can claim – is a ‘reasonable, proportionate and practical approach’.
Bereavement damages of up to £15,120 can currently be claimed by a wife, husband, civil or cohabiting partner, the married parents of a deceased child and the unmarried mother of a child. Unmarried fathers, parents whose children are over 18, children who have lost a parents, siblings or grandparents are not eligible.
Asked by Labour MP Lilian Greenwood if there are any plans for changes, Agar said: ‘Changes to extend availability to other family members (including fathers of illegitimate children) whose relationship to the deceased person may be less close may require a fundamentally different approach which would permit enquiries into the nature of the relationship in individual cases.
‘This could lead in some cases to intrusive and upsetting investigation of the claimant’s relationship with the deceased person and could also increase the cost and complexity of the proceedings.’
He added that bereavement damages were recognised as an acknowledgement of grief and were not intended to reflect the life lost in monetary terms. ‘They are only one element of the damages that may be awarded in a particular case, which for example can also include damages for dependency.’
John McQuater, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said that too many bereft relatives are cut out of the law on bereavement damages. The current limits, he suggested, are so narrow they leave no room to recognise other loving relationships and are out of touch with modern society.'
Parliament’s human rights committee warned in 2020 that the damages scheme was vulnerable to human rights challenges in its current form.