FERMANAGH MLAs have welcome the decision to extend bereavement benefits to cohabiting partners.
The Department for Communities announced that those in the county – and the rest of the North – will have access to Bereavement Support Payment and Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
This had only previously been available to both married and civil partnership couples. Now, this will be extended to those who lived together as a couple at the time of their partner’s death, having previously only been available to bereaved partners who were married or in a civil partnership.
Bereaved cohabiting parents eligible for child benefit at the time of their partner’s death may be eligible for support.
The extension follows a change in the law which ensures more children in bereaved families are equally supported, regardless of their parent’s legal relationship status.
Sinn Fein MLA Jemma Dolan, backed the move saying: “I welcome this positive change in support for people living in different types of relationships.
“It’s important to make sure support is available for people at the hardest times in their lives.
“Couples who choose to cohabit should have access to supports available to those married or in a civil partnership, and this change means that is now possible.
“This change will also mean that more children who face the devastation of losing a parent will have access to support.
“The welfare system is there to support people when they need it, and changes like this shows it can be made to be more compassionate and do what it is supposed to.
“The Assembly has the power to make more positive changes for people here. It’s time the DUP end their boycott and get back to work so that we can make positive changes like this for all our citizens.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott also supported the measure adding that it would bring comfort to people – regardless of marital status –who have suffered the loss of a partner.
He added: “I think the announcement will help bring added comfort to families. It is an incredibly difficult situation for any individual to lose their partner at any stage in life.
“So I would hope this new policy helps to ease the financial pressures that people can experience following their partners death.
“I’m also very pleased for party colleague UUP Councillor Julie Flaherty of Portadown, who has campaigned tirelessly for extension of Bereavement benefits for families for many years. ”
DUP MLA Deborah Erskine outlined how the extension will help families cope with the financial hardship the death of a loved one can bring.
She said: “I am pleased to see the extension of the bereavement benefits. There are many sad circumstances and it is important that there is equality in terms of access to such support.
“As a result of a loss of a loved one it can create a very difficult situations and this includes financial concerns, therefore to have such a scheme will help ease some of the burden.”
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