Lords Push For Cohabiting Couples Increased Rights

The House of Lords are calling for increased rights for cohabiting adults, especially cohabiting siblings as the Cohabitation Rights Bill swept through the House of Lords for a second reading.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill was originally drawn up in 2007 with certain amends being suggested in 2011. Its primary aim was to provide protections for persons who live or have lived together as a cohabitant couple. It also sought clarification on the law regarding the property of a deceased person who are survived by a cohabitant.

Despite various readings and amendments suggested throughout parliament, there has been no action from the government on this issue.

In 1996, less than 3 million people were living as cohabiting couples. In 2014, this figure had risen to 5.9 million. Even today, in 2019, the figure has exceeded 6.6 million couples.

When you consider that this number equates to more than 10% of the UK’s whole population, the magnitude of the issue becomes apparent.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD) highlighted the issue involving cohabiting couples and the legal implications of when the relationship comes to an end. He argued that the courts need to adjust the financial position of cohabitants to ensure that the relationship ends fairly.

Having been a contentious issue so frequently overlooked in recent years, Lord Lexden continued his long-term fight for cohabiting siblings to form a civil partnership.

Disgracefully, long-term cohabiting siblings or people in platonic long-term cohabiting relationships do not have any protections from inheritance tax. Any estate after the death of a cohabitant could therefore be liable to pay tens of thousands of pounds to the government in IHT. For many, this would mean re-mortgaging the property or being forced to sell the property brimming with a lifetime of memories.

Again, this is something that people in marriages or civil partnerships are saved the indignity of. Since civil partnerships became law in 2004, any couples in same sex and heterosexual marriages, where the estate exceeds the maximum threshold, are protected from IHT until both partners die.

Most notably, the longstanding plight of the Burden sisters highlights the overwhelming injustice of this issue. Whilst living unmarried together in their family home, they have continuously petitioned the government to acknowledge relationships like their own and protect their rights.

They argued that long-term cohabiting siblings deserve equal protections to those in sexual relationships for IHT purposes. Unfortunately, The European Court of Human Rights ruled against them in 2008. Since that time, very little has changed and those cohabiting outside of marriage are cast aside and overlooked.

Lord Lexden, conservative member of the House of Lords, commented: “Denied the option to form civil partnerships—though, contrary to widespread belief, there is nothing in the civil partnerships legislation to say that any sexual element is needed—they are denied all the rights that both married couples and civil partners enjoy. Yet cohabiting couples who are related by blood are no less likely to be either financially or emotionally interdependent than those whose union is sexual.

“The hardships that must be borne by those who live together in a relationship based on family ties range from the denial of shared income tax allowances and pension rights to complications with passing on rented tenancies after the death of the first cohabitant and the denial of the spousal exemption from inheritance tax. Without the last of these, many cohabiting family members who bought their homes jointly decades ago, when property was comparatively cheap, face old age with the anxiety of knowing that they may be forced to sell the home, with all its much-loved associations, to raise inheritance tax when the first member of the couple dies.

“Some of the provisions of the Bill before the House today—the right to have an insurable interest in the life of a partner, the right to succeed to a partner’s estate under intestacy rules, and so on—would be of the greatest value to cohabiting siblings and other family members who pair up, whether as companions through life or, as is frequently the case, as carers of an elderly relative. So I ask: why should they be excluded from this Bill simply because their relationship is platonic? Why single out for discrimination the only group of people left who have no access, through any means, to any legal rights and are crying out for them? Why assume that the only kind of relationship worthy of legal protection should be one based on sex, when two family members living together in adulthood in the way I have described so obviously represent a social good?”

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD), commented: “The present law is a charter for partners in cohabiting couples, whether inadvertently or deliberately, to take financial advantage of their relationship and to walk away when it ends, leaving the other party disadvantaged and without redress. Then again, if one partner dies without a will, the other will inherit nothing as of right from the estate, not even the home they lived in together. The Bill would ensure that where a relationship between qualifying cohabiting couples breaks down, the court could adjust the economic impact of the relationship so they share that impact more fairly. I would hope and expect that were these provisions to be enacted, couples would settle the financial consequences of breakdown amicably and without the need for court proceedings.”

Martin Parrin
March 21st 2019