April 24, 2019

Bereavement compensation is becoming increasingly unequal across the UK – here’s why

A statutory bereavement award is a type of compensation that is available to certain family members when a loved one dies following negligence.

The amount awarded is a fixed amount, set by the government, and is currently £12,980 in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland this has now been increased to £15,100.

Northern Ireland previously had the lowest level of damages for bereavement, at just £11,800 however, after a successful campaign by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) there was both an initial increase to £14,200 and a commitment that the Northern Ireland Assembly would review and increase this every three years.

Who is eligible for this compensation?

A bereavement award is paid as part of damages as a result of a claim for negligence where someone has died due to the actions or omissions of someone else – normally a hospital, GP surgery, private care provider, police force, prison, employer, or other body or organisation.

However, this compensation is only available to:

  • a husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased; or
  • the mother or parents of a child under the age of 18 who has died.

Unfortunately, family members such as cohabitees, brothers, sisters or parents of a child over 18 are ineligible for this type of compensation.

Why is this compensation given?

Normally, in negligence claims, compensation is paid to the injured person to put them in a position they would be in if they had not suffered from negligent treatment. For example, it could be for additional medical treatment someone now needs, for additional care that they require from professionals or family members, and for any pain that they have suffered.

However, when someone has died due to negligence, it is impossible to put their family back in the position they would have been had their loved one not been the victim of negligence. It is also therefore harder to compensate their family financially. The statutory award is meant to make some amends for the fact that a loved one should still be alive.

When APIL surveyed members of the public in 2013, it found that over half felt that bereavement damages should be in excess of £100,000 – a far cry from what is currently awarded. The law in Scotland allows bereavement damages to be considered on a case-by-case basis and in APIL’s survey, nearly 75% of respondents felt that this would be a better basis on which to calculate damages.

Many find the law as it stands unfair in both its calculation of these damages and who can be awarded them and APIL continue to campaign for fairness for families of those who have died.

For more information on what compensation might be awarded after a loved one dies, please see our bereavement section on our website and if you have been affected by bereavement, as you may find our bereavement resources and guide helpful.

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