What is a widow's pension in the UK?

A partner passing away is, of course, a distressing situation that leaves many wondering how they will cope. As well as the emotional difficulties you face in this situation, you may also be asking how you will be able to support yourself financially. You can find some comfort in the fact that you may be eligible for bereavement support, sometimes known as a widow’s pension, which could be valuable if you were financially dependent on your deceased partner.  

This, of course, brings up all sorts of questions, including “who qualifies for a widow’s pension?” and “how much is a widow’s state pension?”. Here we look to answer some of these questions so you know whether you are eligible, how much you could receive, and for how long? 

What is a widow's pension?  

The term widow’s pension is slightly outdated, as the benefit referred to as the “widow’s pension” was phased out in April 2001 and replaced by Bereavement Support Payments (BSP). However, you might still hear people using the old term to refer to this. BSP is financial support that you receive after the passing of a partner. 
The original widow’s pension was available until the widow turned 65, or they remarried or retired. This is a key difference with the modern BSP which is only payable up to 21 months after your partner passes away, or until you reach state pension age.  

In addition to the difference in length of payment, BSP is available to all widowed partners (whether married or in civil partnerships), regardless of their gender. Crucially, following a successful debate in the House of Commons in February 2023, this payment by law can now extend to those who were living together, but were not married or civil partners. This previously restricted a large number of couples, but the modernisation of this scheme is welcome and is expected to open the payment up to around 21,000 families to claim.

How much is a widow's pension? 

BSP is paid in monthly instalments, and the amount that you receive will depend on whether you have children or not. Those without children will receive up to £100 every month, whereas this amount can increase to £350 if you have children. This lasts for 18 months.

In addition to the regular widow’s pension, you may also be eligible for a one-off bereavement payment. This is usually a tax-free lump sum of £2500 but increases to £3500 if you have children. Your partner must have paid National Insurance contributions, or their death must have been related to their job. 

You do not need to worry about tax with this payment; UK regulations dictate that this support is tax free, while it’s also important to note that it’s not included in the benefit cap. This means that you don’t need to take this into account when you’re applying for any other means-tested benefits. If you get benefits, BSP will not affect your benefits for a year after your first payment. After a year, money you have left from your first payment could affect the amount you get if you renew or make a claim for another benefit. 

You must tell your benefits office (for example, your local Jobcentre Plus) when you start getting BSP. 

Who qualifies for a widow’s pension?   

You do not need to be over a certain age in order to receive bereavement support payments. However, payments cease once you are over state pension age.  
To qualify:

  • You were below the state pension age when your partner passed away and were living in the UK or another country that pays bereavement support.  
  • Your partner paid National Insurance contributions for a minimum of 25 weeks within one tax year since April 1975 or died under circumstances relating to their work.
  • Your partner must have passed away within the last 21 months. If you do not claim within the first 3 months after their death, then you will not be eligible to receive the full amount.  

As it currently stands, bereavement support payments are not means tested, so if you’re wondering “how much is a widow’s state pension?”, then this only depends on whether you have children or not. You’ll be eligible for the higher rate if you have children that you support.  

How long do you get a widow's pension for?  

If your partner died after April 2017, then BSP is paid for up to 18 months after your spouse or civil partner passed away, so it’s important that you claim as soon as possible to avoid missing out. You must claim within 3 months of your partner passing away in order to receive the full 18 payments. 

Can a widow claim pension credit?   

Pension Credit is a government initiative that is designed to provide elderly people on a lower income with extra money to cover living costs. To qualify for pension credit, you will be means tested and you must be over the state pension age. In addition, you can get assistance with housing costs such as ground rent and service fees. It’s something that you should factor into your long-term care planning for older age, as it can provide important help to lower income retirees.  
Widows are eligible to claim pension credit just like anyone else. Eligibility is based on your age and income, and you may also receive additional support if you are a carer, have a disability or are responsible for a young person. Widow’s pension and bereavement support have no effect on your ability to apply for pension credit. If you get benefits, BSP will not affect your benefits for a year after your first payment. After a year, money you have left from your first payment could affect the amount you get if you renew or make a claim for another benefit. 

So, in summary, a widow’s pension does not actually exist in the UK anymore but has been replaced by bereavement support payments. However, you might find people still call these payments a ‘widow’s pension’. These payments are made in monthly instalments. 

Finally, receiving bereavement support payments does not affect your eligibility for pension credit. In fact, the two are mutually exclusive, since only those above pension age can claim pension credit, and only those below pension age can claim bereavement support payments.  

If you think you might be eligible for a widow’s pension, but aren’t entirely sure, it may be a good idea to speak to a financial adviser. The Private Office can help you understand your options for retirement and provide you with pension advice that is suited to your individual needs and circumstances. Contact us today to see if we can help.   

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Please note: Pensions are a long-term investment; investment returns are not guaranteed, the value of your investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you originally invested. The information provided in this article is based on the current allowances and legislation and is subject to change.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) does not regulate tax advice.