• Catherine Utley

Family members excluded from new legislation

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

17 March 2019

A bill which extends the right to form civil partnerships to opposite sex couples – whilst continuing to deny all the fiscal advantages and legal protections they offer to long-term cohabiting family members – passed its final stage in the House of Commons on Friday (15 March).

It means that, by the end of this year, any two people of opposite or same sex who wish to enjoy joint financial benefits – including the spousal exemption from inheritance tax crucial to those who live together in jointly owned property – will be able to do so without having to get married.

Close blood relations who live together, though, are to remain excluded from all the rights that go with civil partnerships as well as from the ability to form civil partnerships (though there is no legal expectation in the legislation of a sexual relationship).

Speaking during the Commons debate,

Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP who brought in the bill, conceded that when it becomes law, it will do nothing to help family members "such as siblings", as he put it, "who have lived together in a jointly owned property over many, many years".

"When one dies" – Mr Loughton said – “the other is faced with a large inheritance tax bill and all sorts of other things that are clearly disadvantageous”. Whilst he sympathised with their situation, he said his bill was not the place to address it since his bill was about “families and partnerships” and not about “fair financial treatment between blood relatives who are committed to each other”.

Meanwhile, in a separate debate in the House of Lords, also on Friday, the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Marks, argued that those living together “as a couple” who were neither married nor in a civil partnership, should nevertheless enjoy certain joint rights and be subject to certain joint legal responsibilities after they had cohabited for three years.

The Conservative peer, Lord Lexden, used that debate to highlight once again the plight of cohabiting family members, denied all rights. "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 obviously represent a social good?" Lord Lexden said. His comments were supported by the distinguished lawyer and academic, Baroness Deech, who has made strenuous efforts over many years to persuade successive governments to tackle the unjust way in which cohabiting family members are treated under the law.

Catherine Utley of Family Ties Matter said: "Tim Loughton’s civil partnerships bill, which is about to become law, will grant rights to those who already have access to them through other means, whilst excluding only those who do not. Lord Marks’ bill would impose rights and responsibilities – whether they are wanted or not – on those who have rejected both civil partnership and marriage. Meanwhile, the people who have to bear the consequences of the politicians' blinkered approach to all of this are those who live together long term and continue to be driven from their homes by inheritance tax when one of them dies – for no better reason than that they are related to each other by blood. The time for a fresh approach is long overdue."

The House of Commons debate on Tim Loughton’s civil partnerships bill is here

The House of Lords debate on Lord Marks’ Cohabitation Rights bill is here