Coping alone: Lalena Walkley has three children
Lalena Walkley and her partner Adam Rahim were very much in love.
They had been in a relationship for 15 years, had three children and were looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together.
However, when tragedy struck and Adam was killed in a car accident, his family was denied thousands of pounds of financial support from the Government.
Lalena, 37, is now one of about 2,000 bereaved partners in the UK who are denied the Bereavement Support Payment simply because they were not married.
This is despite a landmark ruling at the Supreme Court last year which found it is a breach of human rights to deny unmarried parents a similar benefit.
Lalena and Adam had talked about marriage but were focused on saving to buy a bigger home.
They had no idea that meant the family stood to miss out on thousands of pounds of vital support should one of them die.
Married couples and those in civil partnerships can claim Bereavement Support Payment when their partner dies.
It entitles them to a lump sum of up to £3,500 and further monthly payments of up to £350 for 18 months — as long as their spouse made at least 25 weeks’ worth of National Insurance contributions.
But unmarried couples cannot claim it — regardless of how long they have lived together.
Lalena, who lives in Cambridge with her daughter Sophia, nine, and twin boys Andre and Morgan, seven, says she and Adam just didn’t think they needed to rush to get married.
So when Adam died aged 37 in February last year, Lalena found she would only receive two months’ paid leave from work.
Tragedy: When Lalena’s partner Adam was killed in a car accident, his family was denied thousands of pounds of financial support from the Government
She says: ‘Having to tell your three children their father is not coming home is the same heart-breaking experience whether you are married or not.
‘The lack of support was upsetting not just for me but for my children. Why should they be punished?
‘The Government needs to get with the times and give many cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples.
‘We need to protect grieving families, not punish them.’ The junior sous chef is one of a group of women lobbying the Government to change policy.
At a Work and Pensions Committee last month Lalena, along with three other unmarried widows, accused the Government of discriminating against vulnerable families.
In August last year, mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin, from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, won a landmark legal case after she was denied Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
The benefit, which was replaced by Bereavement Support Payment in April 2017, entitledbereaved spouses to £119.90 a week until any children turned 16 (or 20 if they stayed in education). Siobhan had lived with her partner John Adams for 23 years before he died in 2014.
The Supreme Court ruled that denying her bereavement payments was ‘incompatible with human rights law’.
Campaigners were optimistic it would prompt the Government to change the rules. But ten months on, and unmarried bereaved parents are still being denied.
The DWP says it does not offer the benefits to unmarried widows because co-habitation can be complex.
It may, for example, trigger multiple claims on behalf of the same deceased person should they be married but living with another partner.
Following the Supreme Court ruling, the DWP says it is considering all the options before updating Parliament.