Cohabiting couples deserve same welfare supports and recognition – support modern families

19 October 2021
  • No Widow’s/Widower’s Pension for surviving partner if one dies.
  • Constitution only recognises the marital family.
  • Laws and social protection payments must be changed to protect cohabiting couples.

The Labour Party today published a new Seanad bill that would change the law so that a surviving cohabitant is eligible for a widow/widower’s contributory pension. The Labour Party is also circulating a Dáil motion asking for the support of all TDs for a change in the law and we will write to the Minister for Social Protection asking her to table amendments to the upcoming Social Welfare Bill.

Labour Leader Alan Kelly recently raised the case of a constituent, John O’Meara and his deceased partner Michelle Batey, in the Dáil, and is calling for a change in the law to support the 150,000 and more cohabiting couples in Ireland to give them protection for when the worst happens.

Launching the bill, Deputy Kelly said:

“The concept of family has changed and it’s time to bring Ireland into the 21st century. We want all families to be treated fairly whether they are married or not. This issue is experienced by a huge number of people in Ireland. The 2016 census showed that there are over 75,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland with child dependents – a figure that is likely to be even greater at the next census.

“If a couple is cohabiting the Department of Social Protection will assess both of their means when carrying out a means test for a social assistance payment like job seekers allowance or carer’s allowance. It doesn’t provide any guarantee to contributory social protection payments like the widowers’ pension when one of them dies.

“This Bill has been drafted after the case of Johnny O’Meara and his family came to public prominence last May. He is a self-employed agri-plant contractor with three young children with his partner Michelle Batey who was 42, from Nenagh and worked with AIB. John and Michelle had planned to get married after she had recovered from breast cancer in 2018, but she sadly died in early 2021 after contracting Covid-19. Because they weren’t married, he wasn’t entitled to a survivor’s pension or other payments like the €8,000 grant provided to a widower with dependent children after the death of a married partner. Despite having worked all their lives and paid taxes and PRSI John wasn’t entitled to these payments. This is unfair and discriminatory.

“Cohabiting also has an impact on lots of State payments and supports – not just social welfare payments – medical cards, mature students going back to college, and many more examples. A cohabiting couple can’t claim or transfer unused tax credits between themselves and there can also be an inheritance tax burden when a partner dies. For the assessment of eligibility for social welfare payments a cohabiting couple is treated as together for income assessment – the same as married couples, but not if one of them dies.

“Some laws don’t discriminate. For example the recent Affordable Housing Acts provides for equal treatment for cohabiting couples to qualify for the purchase of an affordable dwelling if they plan to live together, so cohabitation is recognised for some laws but not for others.

“It’s time the law caught up with modern family life. The Citizens Assembly has called for Article 41 of the Constitution to be amended to protect private and family life not limited to the marital family.”

Speaking at the launch of the bill, Johnny O’Meara said:

“This bill is a welcome move that affects so many families throughout the country. The State shouldn’t prioritise the relationship between a married couple over that of a cohabiting couple.

“The family unit has changed. The way people live their lives has changed. Many couples in Ireland today will choose not to get married and some just won’t get around to it like myself and Michelle. Our laws and supports haven’t caught up with the way people live their lives. There is a huge gap in our social protection system and it’s time to act to change it.”

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