AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
by James WOODWARD
against the United Kingdom
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 10 February 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 22 August 2002,
Having regard to the partial decision of 12 November 2002,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr James Woodward, is a British national who was born in 1946 and lives in Cheshire. He was represented before the Court by Ms K. Burton, Vale Royal Citizens Advice Bureau, Winsford. The United Kingdom Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr C. Whomersley of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
The applicant’s wife died on 8 July 1994, leaving two children born in 1982 and 1984. His claim for widows’ benefits was made in February 2002 and was rejected on 9 March 2002 on the ground that he was not entitled to widows’ benefits because he was not a woman. The applicant did not appeal further as he considered or was advised that such a remedy would be bound to fail since no such social security benefits were payable to widowers under United Kingdom law.
The applicant was in receipt of child benefit at the time of his claim.
B. Relevant domestic law
The domestic law relevant to this application is set out in Willis v. the United Kingdom, no. 36042/97, §§ 14 26, ECHR 2002-IV and Runkee and White v. the United Kingdom, no. 42949/98, §§ 40-41, 25 July 2007.
The applicant complained that British social security legislation discriminated against him on grounds of sex, in breach of Article 14 of the Convention taken in conjunction with both Article 8 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
The Court recalls that a widow was not automatically entitled to survivors’ benefits, but had to claim them from the relevant authority. Various time-limits applied: after 1997, a widow had to make a claim for Widow’s Payment within three months of her husband’s death; a claim for Widowed Mother’s Allowance (“WMA”) or Widow’s Pension (“WP”) could be made outside that time-limit, but would be back-dated only three months. To be eligible for WMA, a woman had to be entitled to child benefit.
Consequently, in its partial decision of 12 November 2002 the Court declared inadmissible the applicant’s claim for Widow’s Payment as it had been made out of time.
In respect of WMA the Court observes that the applicant was in receipt of child benefit at the time of his claim in 2002.
The Government contended that WMA had ceased to exist as of 9 April 2001. Although it was possible to back date payments for a period of three months, in the applicant’s case his claim would still have been back dated to December 2001 and therefore to a time when WMA no longer existed. Consequently, according to the Government the applicant would not, had he been a woman, have been entitled to payment of WMA.
The applicant made no submissions on this point.
The Court observes that it is an established fact that various widowers in the same situation as the applicant have been granted Widowed Parent’s Allowance (“WPA”), a benefit replacing WMA. The Court notes that the applicant in the present case did not complain about the failure to grant him WPA, nor did he mention whether he made any attempt to claim such benefit. Consequently, the Court considers that in these circumstances the applicant cannot claim to be a victim of discrimination, since a woman in the same position would not have been entitled to the benefit in question (see, mutatis mutandis, Rogan v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 57946/00, 8 September 2001). Thus, the applicant cannot claim to have been a victim of a violation of his rights under the Convention and the said Protocol, and the complaint in respect of WMA is therefore incompatible ratione personae and must be declared inadmissible in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
In relation to the claim for WP, the Court held in its lead judgment regarding WP that at its origin, and until its abolition in respect of women whose spouses died after 9 April 2001, WP was intended to correct “factual inequalities” between older widows, as a group, and the rest of the population and that this difference in treatment was reasonably and objectively justified. Moreover, the Court considered that the United Kingdom could not be criticised for not having abolished WP earlier and that it was not unreasonable of the legislature to decide to introduce the reform slowly (see Runkee and White, cited above, §§ 40-41). The Court, consequently, considering it was not necessary to examine separately the complaint in respect of Article 8, did not find a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in respect of the non-payment to the applicants of Widow’s Pension or equivalent (ibid § 42).
Consequently, this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.
Fatoş Aracı Lech Garlicki
Deputy Registrar President