Since 1 January 2008 the amount paid to those whose loved ones have suffered a fatal accident has risen. However, does this increase truly compensate those affected by bereavement, or does it fall short in a world where everything costs more?

The Fatal Accidents Act 1976  

This Act governs the allocation of damages upon death. It allows for an automatic amount to be paid to individuals having a certain relationship with the deceased. This means that if, at the time of the death, you are either the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, or if you are the parent of an unmarried deceased, under 18, then you are entitled to “bereavement damages”.  

What is the amount?  

S1A (5) of the Act makes provision for the Lord Chancellor to set and adjust the figure at any given time. The amount rose from £7,500 to £10,000 in April 2002, and from 1 January 2008 it rose a further 18% to £11,800 for deaths occurring on or after this date. The latest rise has been made in order to keep in line with changes to the Retail Price Index that have incurred since the last rise in Bereavement Damages in April 2002.  

However, although the increase is generally welcomed, it is felt that more could be done to compensate people affected by bereavement. In Scotland, for example, those suffering a bereavement can claim up to £30,000 - more than twice the amount now in force in England and Wales. The Government has however indicated that they will consider the figure on a regular basis.  

What happens if you cannot qualify for bereavement damages?  

S1(1) of the Act does give a right to claim for damages where a loved one suffers death by a wrongful act, neglect or default. These individuals must, however, prove the damages that they have suffered as a result of the death in order to quantify the amount they may receive. As such it is a more laborious task than a s1A claim.  

Those that can claim under s1(1) include a wife or husband or former wife or husband, a civil parther or former civil partner of the deceased, any person who was living with the deceased immediately before the date of death, or had been living with the deceased for at least two years before that date as a wife or husband or civil partner. Parents, children, siblings, uncles or aunts of the deceased can also bring such a claim as can any person (not being a child of the deceased) was who was treated as a child of the family. A claim under s1(3) is usually brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased, though it may also be brought by all or any of the persons seeking the amount.  

What if more than one person is entitled to the bereavement payment?  

This question might arise where, for example, a deceased child has two parents. Can both parents claim an individual £11,800 each under the Act or must they divide a single payment between themselves? The answer is the latter. The statutory amount is one paid as a single lump sum and is divided between those entitled to it. Furthermore, there is a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children in s1A(2)(b) which states that whilst both parents of a legitimate child may claim for damages, only the mother of an illegitimate child may claim. This distinction, however, is understandable in seeking to avoid fraudulent claims.  

All in all, whilst being a strictly regulated procedure the ability for spouses, civil partners or parents to claim a guaranteed amount upon the loss of a loved one must be seen as a positive thing. Whether the latest increase in the amount claimable is adequate or not, however, is open for debate.