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Bereavement benefits & compassionate leave

During grief, just getting through each day can feel draining and exhausting and about all we can manage and for that reason most people will have help sorting out things like practical funeral arrangements, registering the death and all those immediate areas that need to be dealt with. But I wanted to share with you the bereavement benefit you can get from the government and what the legislation says on bereavement leave during employment as it’s not very well known and until you go looking for it, and most people don’t know their entitlements.

So to understand bereavement benefits, firstly it is helpful to go to the website where there is a section entitled Bereavement Support Payment which is a non-means tested, tax-free benefit, paid to widows, widowers, or surviving civil partners who are bereaved on or after 6 April 2017 but to claim you must be married or in a civil relationship.

You’ll get a first payment and then up to 18 monthly payments. There are 2 rates; a higher and lower one depending on whether you are also receiving child benefit or were pregnant when your husband, wife or civil partner died.

If you get Child Benefit (or if you do not get it but are entitled to it), you’ll get the higher rate. If you do not get Child Benefit, you’ll get the lower rate unless you were pregnant when your husband, wife or civil partner died.

You must claim within 3 months of the death to get the full amount so it’s important to act quickly. You can claim up to 21 months after but your payments will be less.

So, I know how difficult it is to do all the practical things that need doing promptly whilst you may still be in a state of shock, but if you can, get someone to help you with this because you don’t want to miss out on your financial entitlements.

If you are currently receiving benefits, Bereavement Support Payment will not affect your benefits for a year after your first payment. After a year, any payment you have left over could affect the amount of benefit you’re eligible for.

You must tell your benefits office (for example, your local Jobcentre Plus) when you start getting Bereavement Support Payment. You must be under state pension age and living in the UK when the person died.

With regards to compassionate or bereavement leave, this is currently discretionary according to each employer and you may be offered paid leave or leave without pay. Many employers are recognising the importance of staff wellbeing and offering compassionate leave to those who need and request it but there isn’t any legislation in place about it. However, there is a new parliamentary bill, still in discussion, but looking to be implemented in 2020, entitled Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay which will give parents 2 weeks paid leave for the loss of a child under the age of 18. I’m personally not really sure why this couldn’t have been rolled out across all close family bereavements but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

And finally, in relation to wills – hopefully, a will has been written which makes assets and financies so much more straightforward to deal with, but if not, dying without a valid will is called intestacy or dying intestate. If this is the case, you can apply to be an administrator of the estate (through and the process will be the same as applying for probate. The law about exactly who gets what is different in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You’ll receive ‘letters of administration’ to prove you have the legal right to deal with the estate. You can usually apply if you’re the person’s next of kin, for example their spouse, civil partner or child.

It is complex, but there are organisations out there who can help and support you with all this – if you feel you can’t do it all yourself, ask for help from family and friends.

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