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Partner of dead firefighter lays into bereavement law
8:00am Wednesday 11th December 2013 in News
A MOTHER whose partner was killed in a road accident has called for a change in law to help unmarried couples.
Nicci Saunders’s partner of seven years, Joe Wilkins, 39, was cycling in Eaton Road, near Appleton, in May last year when he was hit and killed Paul Brown’s car.
After his death, the Eynsham 40-year-old found she was not able to claim a bereavement award because the couple were not married, even though they have two children.
Ms Saunders, an administration assistant, said: “Joe and I had been a couple for more than seven years.
“We lived together and have two young children, yet in the eyes of the law our relationship was not as serious as a couple who had met and married in five minutes.
“Joe and I had discussed marriage but we decided to wait until the girls were a little bit older before we did it so they could enjoy the day.
“In truth, I only wanted to get married so I could take his name.
“I didn’t realise that by not being husband and wife we would suffer if one of us died.
“I have been very fortunate as Joe was an intelligent man who had set things up for the future. However, if he hadn’t, we could have lost our home – everything.”
A surviving spouse can claim up to the value of a £12,980 bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act – but those who are not married cannot touch the fund regardless of how long they have been together or if they have children.
She said: “The fact is, there are a lot of couples who cannot afford to get married or do not see it as a priority, but if the worst happens, they will be totally unprotected and that is not right.
“Society is moving forwards. Civil partnerships are now recognised in the same way married couples are, but it is about time that unmarried couples were also given those rights in the eyes of the law.”
Paul Kitson, personal injury lawyer for Slater & Gordon and Ms Saunders’ solicitor, said: “Nicola’s case is one of a growing number in which unmarried partners are unfairly treated when it comes to compensation following the loss of a loved one.”
Brown, 30, of Oxford Road, Eynsham was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 12 months in September after admitting causing death by careless driving.
Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Sofia Kannas said: “Bereavement damages under the Fatal Accidents Act allow for a fixed award to be made to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner, or, if the deceased was under 18 and had never been married, to the deceased’s parents.”
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