Cohabiting couples deserve same compassion as married couples

Senator Mark Wall
21 October 2022
  • Laws and social protection payments must be changed to protect cohabiting couples
  • Labour demand Widow/ Widower’s Pension for surviving partner
  • Urges Minister Humphreys to support Labour Bill

Next Wednesday (26th October), Labour’s Social Welfare (Surviving Cohabitant’s Pension) Bill will be debated in the Seanad demanding greater protection for cohabiting couples.

Calling for support of its Bill to provide a cohabiting partner with the same legal entitlement as married couples to a social welfare contributory pension, Senator Mark Wall said compassion must be shown to all families whether they are married or not.

This issue was first brought to Labour by Johnny O’Meara, a constituent of Deputy Alan Kelly, who is not entitled to a Widowers’ Pension following the passing of his late partner Michelle.

Mr O’Meara unsuccessfully took a case on the grounds of discrimination against the Department of Social Protection earlier this year. In providing his judgement on 8th October 2022, Mr Justice Heslin’s ruling showed that legislative reform is needed that will allow cohabiting couples to benefit from the same supports from the State as a married couple.

This is what Labour’s Bill seeks to remedy.

Senator Wall said:

“There were approximately 150,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland according to the 2016 Census, and while we wait for the 2022 results, there are at least 75,000 cohabiting couples with children in Ireland. We want these families to be treated with the same compassion as married couples through an entitlement to a Widow / Widower’s Pension in the sad event of one partner passing away.

“Right now, if the partner of a cohabiting couple dies, they currently have no entitlement to a widow’s or widower’s pension from social protection, even if both partners were working. But if one partner, while cohabiting, sought jobseekers or carer’s allowance they would be assessed under their joint income. It’s simply not fair. We need to change the law to show compassion to all families.

“This issue was first brought to us through Johnny O’Meara’s moving story in 2021. Johnny’s late partner Michelle passed away on the 31st of January 2021. Because they hadn’t got around to getting married the State provides little or no supports to John and his family. John is not entitled to any widower’s pension even though both John and Michelle were workers.

“Labour has drafted a bill to protect families in situations like Johnny O’Meara. Cohabiting couples should be entitled to State supports, like a married couple. Despite working hard all their lives, paying their taxes and PRSI, Johnny was not 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.

“We need to have an overhaul of our laws that take into account the structure of family in Ireland today. Some laws don’t discriminate. For example the 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.

“Many couples in Ireland today will choose not to get married and some just won’t get around to it like Johnny and his late partner 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.

“I have written to the Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys asking for her support of Labour’s bill to provide compassion and inclusivity to all families.

“The concept of family has changed. It’s time for the State to catch up and support people when the worst happens. I am calling on the Government to change the law around social protection payments to provide supports to cohabiting couples and surviving partners where one may die and support Labour’s Bill next Wednesday.”

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