The widow's pension and bereavement allowance

Chris Torney

A guide to the payments and benefits you might be eligible for if your spouse or civil partner dies.

If your spouse or civil partner dies, you could be entitled to money from the state. Until 2001, the government offered a widow’s pension in certain circumstances but this has been replaced by various bereavement benefits.

Instead of a catch-all widow's pension, the bereavement benefits now include a one-off bereavement payment, a weekly bereavement allowance (paid for up to a year), as well as the widowed parent’s allowance for those whose partners die while their children are still minors.

Bear in mind that from April, 2017 a new system of state bereavement payments is being introduced - find out about the changes to the bereavement benefits here.

So what assistance is available, and who is eligible for it?

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Bereavement payment

This is a one-off, tax-free payment of £2,000 and is available to men or women whose husband, wife or civil partner has died. 

You are usually only eligible for the bereavement payment if you were under state pension age when your partner died. But it is still possible to claim the money if you were over state pension age, provided your partner was not entitled to a state pension based on their own national insurance contributions.

The deceased must also have paid sufficient national insurance contributions themselves over the course of their working life, although this requirement does not apply to those who have died as a result of a workplace accident or industrial disease.

If you are divorced from the spouse or civil partner or if you are in prison, you will not be entitled to this payment.

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Bereavement allowance

This is a weekly payment for widows and widowers – it was previously known as the widow’s pension. 

Payments continue for up to 52 weeks, and the amount you are entitled to depends on your age when your partner died as well, as the level of national insurance contributions they had made during their working life.

To be eligible, you need to have been between 45 and state pension age when your husband, wife or civil partner died. If you have children who are still entitled to child benefit payments, you should claim widowed parent’s allowance instead (see below): you can’t claim both benefits at the same time.

If you’re divorced or living with someone else as if you were married, you will not be eligible for bereavement allowance, nor will you be if you are in prison.

The maximum weekly rate for bereavement allowance starts at £33.77 for those widowed at age 45 and rises by roughly £8 for every year until the age of 55. 

People whose partners die when they are between 55 and state pension age can receive as much as £112.55 a week during the one-year claim period.

If you reach state pension age before the year is up, your bereavement allowance payments will stop. And if your partner did not make sufficient national insurance contributions, you may still be entitled to the maximum allowance if their death was the result of their work.

Both bereavement allowance and widowed parent’s allowance are taxable at your rate of income tax – either 0%, 20%, 40% or 45%.

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Widowed parent’s allowance

If you are entitled to child benefit for any of your children when your husband, wife or civil partner dies, you may be able to claim widowed parent’s allowance.

This is a weekly payment made after your partner’s death: it continues until you stop receiving child benefit for the child or children in question. The maximum weekly amount is £112.55, although how much you get depends on the level of national insurance contributions made by your late partner.

If your child stops being eligible for child benefit within 52 weeks of your partner’s death, you may be able to start claiming bereavement allowance as described above for the remainder.

You can only claim widowed parent’s allowance if you are under the state pension age, and you can’t get it if you are divorced or co-habiting with a new partner.

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If you are over state pension age

Although these benefits do not apply to people who have already reached state pension age, you could get an increased state pension after your partner dies.

This may be the case if you are not receiving a full state pension already. To find out more, contact the Pension Service on 0800 731 7898.

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How to claim

To claim bereavement payment and either of bereavement allowance or widowed parent’s allowance, download the claim form from this government web page. This form covers all three benefits.

Forms are also available from your local Jobcentre Plus, and can be ordered over the phone – check the phone book for your local centre’s number.

Bereavement payment can be claimed at any point within a year of your partner’s death, but bereavement allowance and widowed parent’s allowance should be claimed within three months.

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Claiming from abroad

In some circumstances, you may be able to make a claim for one or more of these benefits even if you are living outside the UK. To find out more, contact the International Pension Centre on +44 191 21 87608.

Bereavement benefits and other payments

State payments related to bereavement can affect your entitlement to other benefits, such as income support or carer’s allowance. And bereavement payment counts as savings when it comes to working out your entitlement to certain means-tested benefits.

For more information on how you could be affected, speak to your local Jobcentre Plus.

Changes to the Bereavement Support Payment in April 2017 

The current system of benefits, including Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance, will be replaced with a single Bereavement Support Payment for new claims from April 2017. Age won’t determine eligibility and National Insurance contribution conditions are simpler.

This new system of state bereavement payments will mean more generous initial bereavement payments, but in many instances – in particular where young children lose a parent – the amounts subsequently paid out will be less.

For those without children, the changes mean a £2,500 lump-sum payment after their spouse dies. This will then be followed by 18 monthly payments of £100 – but the surviving partner no longer needs to be 45 or older in order to claim these ongoing payments.

For those with children, the initial lump-sum will be £3,500 followed by 18 monthly payments of £350. But compared with the current system, where widowed parents can potentially receive £112.55 a week until their children turn 16 (or 20 if they are in full-time education), this is far less generous.

Under the new system, ongoing payments will no longer depend on the deceased partner having made sufficient national insurance contributions.

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Bereavement benefits: frequently asked questions

How much in terms bereavement payments am I entitled to after becoming a widow or widower?

At present, widows and widowers under state pension age are entitled to bereavement payments worth £2,000 after their husband, wife or civil partner dies. 

This can then be followed by further ongoing payments of up to £112.55 a week.

How long will the bereavement payments be paid for?

For parents, widowed parent’s allowance continues until their children are no longer eligible for child benefit. Bereavement allowance, for non-parents, lasts for 52 weeks.

What is the difference between the widow’s pension and the bereavement allowance / bereavement payment?

The widow’s pension ran until 2001. It has now been replaced by the bereavement benefits set out above.

How do I claim bereavement support?

If you download a claim form from this government web page, you will be able to apply for bereavement payment and bereavement allowance or widowed parent’s allowance.

How will the bereavement payment change?

From April 6, 2017, bereavement payments are increasing to £2,500 for non-parents and £3,500 for parents.

How will the bereavement allowance change?

The allowance for non-parents is changing on April 6, 2017 to £100 a month for 18 months. This will no longer be dependent on the deceased partner’s national insurance contribution record.

How will the widowed parent’s allowance change?

The allowance for parents is changing on April 6, 2017 to £350 a month for 18 months. 

Again, the size of this payment will no longer be dependent on the deceased partner’s national insurance record.

Money Expert Paul Lewis sums up: All change for bereavement benefits

From April 6 there will be less money for most people who are newly bereaved. 

This major change in bereavement benefits will save the Government around £100 million a year. 

A spouse (or civil partner) of someone who dies from April 6, 2017 will get a new Bereavement Support Payment. 

People without dependent children will get £2,500 and then up to 18 monthly payments of £100. Those who are entitled to child benefit for dependent children will get £3,500 plus up to 18 monthly payments of £350.

This payment will replace three existing benefits – a one-off payment of £2,000, weekly payments of up to £112.55 for 52 weeks for those without children, and for those with children £112.55 a week until the youngest no longer qualifies for child benefit.

Official figures show that three out of four bereaved families will be worse off and the Child Bereavement Network says a working widowed parent will lose more than £12,000 altogether. The changes will not affect anyone already on bereavement benefits or who is widowed before April 6, 2017.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.