Do I qualify for bereavement benefit six years after being widowed?

I sadly lost my husband suddenly from a heart attack six years ago.

When he passed away, I was not aware that I was entitled to a one-off lump sum and further regular payments.

Last year I also unfortunately lost my brother, whose widow was contacted automatically by the Department for Work and Pensions after she used the Tell Us Once service which informs all authorities and necessary people of the death.

Sudden bereavement: I didn't know I was due a payout after losing my husband - why am I being refused it now (Stock image) Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

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Steve Webb replies: Someone who is coping with bereavement and who is not receiving any benefits may well not realise that help may be available to them through the social security system.

Although unfortunately it may be too late to put things right for you, I hope that this column will alert others to the existence of bereavement benefits for bereaved people of working age.

The system changed in 2017, and therefore I will explain both how it worked when you lost your husband and how it does now, plus what Government information is currently available to the bereaved. 

How did the system work when your husband died?

There were three elements to the pre-2017 system:

– A lump sum ‘bereavement payment’ of £2,000;

– A ‘widowed parent’s allowance’ which was an ongoing weekly payment for those with dependent children;

– A ‘bereavement allowance’ which was a (generally lower) ongoing weekly payment for bereaved people aged over 45 without dependent children.

Rather confusingly, there were two different time limits for claiming these benefits.

Anyone claiming either the widowed parent’s allowance or the bereavement allowance had to claim within three months of the bereavement. But those claiming only the lump sum had up to 12 months to claim.

Under normal rules, unfortunately this means that you would not be able to make a successful claim after six years. 

If you were widowed before your spouse reached state pension age, your own payouts could get a boost 

More than a quarter of a million bereaved pensioners currently benefit from a state pension uplift from National Insurance contributions made by a spouse who died before official retirement age.

But the Government only tops up your income when it is aware you are a widow, widower, or surviving civil partner, says Steve Webb.

Find out how to check you’re getting the right amount here. 

What bereavement payments are available now?

The current system was introduced in April 2017 and the main benefit is called a ‘bereavement support payment’.

It is in two parts – an immediate lump sum (which can help with things like funeral costs and other immediate outgoings) and a regular monthly payment for the following year.

Different rates are payable to those with dependent children and those without.

Those with children get a lump sum of £3,500 followed by 12 payments of £350, whilst those without children get a £2,500 lump sum plus 12 payments of £100. A claim has to be made within three months of the bereavement.

This is a National Insurance benefit and the person who died must have paid a minimum amount in National Insurance Contributions. The eligibility rules are here. 

You are only entitled if you were married or in a civil partnership with the person who died. Unfortunately couples who live together do not qualify, even if they have children together.

In general, the bereaved person must be under state pension age, though there are some very limited exceptions to this. 

What does the Government do to alert people about bereavement payments?

You raise an important point about people not being aware of this benefit.

In general, the Government’s view is that the onus is on the individual to make inquiries and to claim what they are entitled to. But clearly they have recognised that there is a problem with bereaved people not claiming this benefit.

I have contacted the DWP and they tell me that those who report a bereavement using the ‘tell us once’ service will receive a letter prompting them that financial support may be available. 

They are also given contact details for the Bereavement Service – its helpline is 0800 731 0469.

It sounds as though this is what happened in your sister-in-law’s case. It is unfortunate that you were not alerted when you lost your husband.

The Government website now has a helpful step-by-step guide to what people should do when someone has died, including a reference to claiming relevant benefits, and that can be found here. 

A more comprehensive set of resources for the recently bereaved can be found on the Royal London website here. 

ASK STEVE WEBB A PENSION QUESTION 

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Since leaving the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election, Steve has joined pension firm Royal London as director of policy.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at pensionquestions@thisismoney.co.uk.

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful. 

If you have a question about state pension top-ups, Steve has written a guide which you can find here. 

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