"The basis for creating civil partnerships is the recognition by government of the value of close, mutually supportive relationships outside of traditional marriage. As such, the exclusion of cohabiting blood relations from the right to form one is discriminatory and a serious mistake that needs to be corrected".

Dominic Grieve QC MP, former Attorney General

                                           

What's it about?

The practice of family members living together in adulthood is a tried and tested social good. In Britain today it's common for an unmarried son or daughter to move in with an elderly parent who would otherwise be living alone, to provide practical help and care. And thousands of unmarried siblings choose to pair up in adulthood, often jointly buying a home and staying together for decades or, in many cases, a lifetime. These partners share their bank accounts, split the bills and the household chores and provide each other and those around them with stability, help, comfort and companionship. The bond is often very

deep indeed. 

The famous cricketing Bedser twins worked in the same office, served in the RAF together during the second world war and shared their home all their lives.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that the government doesn't encourage living together outside marriage except for sexual or romantic couples. In fact it goes out of its way to discourage family members from sharing their home and their lives in adulthood. Barred, by virtue of their blood ties, from registering for civil partnerships (though, unlike marriages, civil partnerships, in legal terms, have nothing to do with sex) close family members who live together are also denied every one of the rights that go
with them.

 

These rights include: sharing of income tax allowances, joint pension rights, freedom from complications with passing on rented tenancies and the postponement of inheritance tax until both partners have died. Without this last, many who bought their homes jointly decades ago when property was comparatively cheap, are now forced to sell them — with all their loved associations — to raise inheritance tax on the first death. It is this that causes the greatest anxiety to many such platonic life partners in old age and untold difficulty to the survivor at the moment of his/her deepest loss. But the government refuses to change the rules.

The civil partnership act

In 2004, during the passage through Parliament of the Civil Partnership Act, which established civil rights for gay couples for the first time, the House of Lords passed an amendment which would have solved the problem for family members by extending eligibility for civil partnerships beyond gay couples, to close blood relations who lived together. But the amendment was removed by the House of Commons. The difficulties facing cohabiting family members were widely acknowledged, but it was felt that the Civil Partnership Act was not the right place to address them. The priority at that time — before same sex marriage was established — was to grant rights and protections to gay couples and the issue of helping family members who chose to live together in adulthood was put on hold.

The Burden sisters

In 2005, the elderly Burden sisters, Joyce and Sybil, who had lived in their jointly owned home in Wiltshire all their adult lives, where they looked after a succession of their elderly relatives, took their case to the European Court of Human rights. They argued that it was unfairly discriminatory of the government to treat them differently, for inheritance tax purposes, from the way it treated civil partners who could pass their estate, one to the other, free of inheritance tax when one died.

 

The Burden sisters' home had appreciated in value during the decades of their ownership to the extent that the surviving sister would have to sell it on the death of the first to pay the tax on the deceased sister's share. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights finally ruled against the sisters in 2008. The Burdens could not be expected to be treated as civil partners, the judgment said, because they had not made a legal commitment to each other in the way that civil partners had. Other legal arguments on which the judgment was based have been overtaken by the advent of same sex marriage which has changed the status of civil partnerships. The full judgment is here 

Support in parliament

There have been many attempts in both Houses of Parliament over many years, through parliamentary questions and amendments to various bills, to put right what members on all sides see as a glaring injustice against family members who choose to set up home together and are denied all safeguards. One of the most tenacious supporters for reform to help cohabiting blood relations is the distinguished academic and lawyer, Baroness Deech who has made strenuous efforts over some 15 years to persuade successive governments to address the issue, either by changing inheritance tax rules or reforming civil partnerships. Baroness O'Cathain, Sir Edward Leigh MP, Lord Alton and Lord Lexden are among the other vocal supporters of the cause in parliament. 

 

You can read more on the parliament page of this website here

Lord Lexden's bill

The current main voice for the cause in parliament is the Conservative peer, Lord Lexden — a deputy speaker of the House of Lords and the official historian of the Conservative Party. Lord Lexden argues that, since gay couples, for whom civil partnerships were originally established, are now able to enter a same sex marriage (which provides all the same rights as a civil partnership), the existing civil partnership legislation should be reformed to become the vehicle to address the injustice that remains against long-term cohabiting siblings.

 

Lord Lexden's Civil Partnership Act 20014 (Amendment) (Sibling Couples) Bill 2017-19, would extend civil partnerships to siblings aged over 30 who have lived together for at least 12 consecutive years. The second reading of that bill took place in the House of Lords in July 2018. You can read the debate here. Lord Lexden was strongly supported by many peers from the Conservative and Crossbenches. However, his proposal has been rejected by the government, which says civil partnerships are intended for those who are in what it calls "intimate partner relationships".

Lord Lexden, senior Conservative peer and official historian of the Conservative Party.

Legal views

The former attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC MP, is among those who believe it is wrong to exclude cohabiting family members from the right to form civil partnerships. “The basis for creating civil partnerships is the recognition by government of the value of close mutually supportive relationships outside of traditional marriage. As such, the exclusion of cohabiting blood relations from the right to form one is discriminatory and a serious mistake that needs to be corrected”, Dominic Grieve has said. A number of lawyers have written on legal blogs in support of extending the rights offered by civil partnerships to cohabiting family members. You can find a selection here 

Support from the Church

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph in June 2018, the Anglican bishop, the Rt Rev'd Michael Nazir-Ali, former bishop of Rochester, wrote: "During the passage of the civil partnerships legislation in the House of Lords, many of us argued that the Bill should not mimic marriage, which...is the bedrock of society and of a stable family life. If the purpose of that legislation was to remove injustice in terms of hospital visiting rights, inheritance of tenancies and so on, then surely civil partnerships should be open to all those who live together permanently for any reason, whether they be mother and daughter, sisters or friends. They should not be based on the presumption of a
sexual relationship". 

The Rt Rev'd Michael Nazir-Ali. 

Gregory Pope, Assistant General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (and a former Labour MP) has said: "Firstly it is a matter of principle for us [the Catholic Church] to promote and protect marriage as a great social good...Secondly, there is clearly a lacuna in the current law which means that siblings living together for a prolonged time are denied the sharing of tax allowances, pension rights, inheritance tax benefits and so forth which are available to others. This is clearly unjustly discriminatory..The government ought to recognise this unfair situation and set out how it intends to remedy it."

What do we want?

We believe that family members who wish to live together in adulthood should not be discouraged by the government from doing so. 

Such arrangements are of benefit both to those who are in them and to wider society. They are a source of mutual support and companionship, they release housing stock and they save the State costs in social care. 

 

We call on the government to recognise the worth of family ties and to treat those family members who live together long term no less favourably than it treats civil partners for tax and other purposes. 

We urge the government to act now, either by removing the bar to family members registering as civil partners, or by setting out the means by which it otherwise intends to remove the injustice suffered by those who remain excluded from them. 

This campaign has received much media attention. Please see our press page here

Family Ties Matter

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