How could the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2017-19 affect unmarried couples?

The Cohabitation Rights Bill [HL] 2017-19 has been presented to the House of Lords. Jill Rushton of Stephensons looks at how, if passed, the Bill could affect unmarried couples living together in the future.

Cohabitation Rights Bill 2019

What is the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2017-19?

The purpose of the Cohabitation Rights Bill is to provide protection to financially disadvantaged cohabitants and to make provision for them on the death of their partner. The Bill would provide:

  • protection for cohabitants who have lived together for a minimum of three years or who have a child together
  • the right for either cohabitant to apply to a court for a financial settlement order upon the breakdown of the relationship to redress a financial benefit or an economic disadvantage resulting from the period of cohabitation
  • the right for cohabitants to opt-out of the financial settlement provisions, if they both agreed
  • cohabitants with the right to succeed to their partner’s estate under the intestacy rules and the right to have an insurable interest in the life of their partner

The Bill has been presented to the House of Lords and had its second reading in the House on the 15 March 2019, with many hoping the Bill can soon become law.

Does living together give you rights when a loved one dies?

At present the law offers very little protection to unmarried cohabitants and they may find themselves in serious financial risk. If one partner dies without having made a will (intestate) his or her partner will not fall under any class of persons eligible to automatically receive a share of the estate of the deceased partner.

This means that the surviving partner would need to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (IPFDA) to benefit at all. This of course relies on the surviving partner having the means to bring such a claim and being able to evidence their eligibility to make such a claim. 

If one partner was to die, leaving a will which benefits their surviving partner, there is no spouse exemption to apply to mitigate the inheritance tax liability on the estate, as this only applies to married couples. Nor can any portion of the unused nil rate band (currently £325,000) be transferred to the surviving partner’s estate to mitigate their future tax liability.

What will the Cohabitation Rights Bill mean for unmarried couples?

If passed into law the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2017-19 would extend the same financial rights and provisions currently made for spouses and civil partners on their partner’s death to include cohabitants.  Further, the Bill would amend the Life Assurance Act 1774 to formally allow cohabitants to take out life insurance on the lives of each other.

It would also have an impact where one partner has been put at a financial disadvantage by contributing to the purchase or upkeep of a shared home without receiving any payment or interest from the other partner. This disadvantaged partner could seek a court order to rectify the imbalance and the court would be able to apply the same remedies available as in divorce proceedings, such as the payment of a lump sum, transfer or sale of the property or pension sharing arrangements.

What are the arguments against the Cohabitation Rights Bill?

The Bill has raised concerns generally about undermining marriage and civil partnerships, but the major concern seems to be defining what is ‘co-habiting’. An exact definition has not yet been provided but the act defines them as persons living together as a couple, sharing a child or children living together for a period of 3 years and unmarried and not in a civil partnership.  

The way in which the legal industry may changes as a result will obviously be actions on behalf of cohabitants being brought in Court. There will also be a decrease in the number of IPFDA claims being brought for provision from estates. 

What should couples living together do until the Cohabitation Rights Bill is passed?

Given the unknown timescale and lack of certainty the Cohabitation Rights Bill will even come into force, in the meantime couples could consider getting married or entering into a civil partnership to receive the automatic benefits which they are currently denied as cohabitants.

For couples who do not wish to enter into a marriage or forming a civil partnership, there are other forms of protection until the Bill is passed. Cohabiting couples can enter into a cohabitation agreement and/or Deed of Trust, which sets out how capital assets (for instance, the home) are to be owned and resolves any other financial issues (such as the division of household expenses). 

Cohabiting couples each need a valid will in to protect their partner’s interests and avoid them having to make an application under the 1975 Act. The provision of these legal services will be reduced on the passing of the Bill.

About the author

Jill Rushton is a Senior Associate Solicitor in the probate department at Stephensons.

See also

What happens to a joint bank account when someone dies?

Where should I store my will?

What to do if a new will is found after an estate has been divided

Find out more

Cohabitation Rights Bill [HL] 2017-19 (

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (Legislation)

Life Assurance Act 1774 (Legislation)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 3 February 2020