Bereavement: What Price, Life?

Thanks to Helen Waller for this update on the forthcoming changes to bereavement awards.

From 1 May 2020, bereavement damages awarded under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, s.1A(3), will increase to £15,120 for causes of action that accrue from that date (see the variation order here).

The Government has described bereavement awards as being “a token payment payable to a limited group of people” (at para 18 of the Government Response to the JCHR, here), a choice of words that perhaps comes across as a little uncharitable. Yet, as a “token payment”, it’s hard at first to see why the Government has, over the years, chosen such precise figures. However, a little digging in the historical legislation reveals that the sum was initially £7,500 and remained so until 2002. From then it increased to £10,000, thereafter in 2008 and 2013 it was ostensibly increased in line with inflation to £11,800 and £12,980 respectively. The power to vary the statutory sum remains vested in the Lord Chancellor.

Aside from the sum awarded, problems with bereavement damages remain. In 2017 the Court of Appeal declared the current regime incompatible with the ECHR in the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals [2017] EWCA Civ 1916. The Court held that bereavement awards should be extended to cohabitants who had been in a relationship for 2 years or more. A draft Remedial Order has been proposed by the MoJ to address this. It and the Government response can be found here. The proposed extension would clearly have significant implications for unmarried, but cohabiting, asbestos claimants. However, the proposal is moving through the non-urgent procedure and in the current climate of Covid-19 its progress may be hindered.


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