Social Security Benefits: Polygamy

Department for Work and Pensions written question – answered on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many polygamous households received income-related state benefits in the latest annual period for which figures are available.

Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether second and subsequent partners in polygamous relationships are treated as separate claimants under the current rules for benefits and tax credits.

Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many polygamous households they estimate to be affected by the move to Universal Credit; and what estimate they have made of the total cost of such households’ Universal Credit claims.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott Deputy Chairman of Committees, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

There is no estimate of the number of legally recognised polygamous marriages in the United Kingdom. The Government believe the numbers of legally recognised polygamous marriages to be very low and declining. This is because, since the Immigration Act 1988, it has not been possible for people polygamously married overseas to bring second spouses to the United Kingdom.

No one can contract a polygamous marriage in the UK, but marriage legislation recognises the validity of polygamous marriages entered into in a country where polygamy was legal when the parties concerned were domiciled there. Social security legislation adopts a similar approach to avoid anomalous results (such as treating polygamous households more favourably than monogamous ones).

Information concerning: a) the volume of polygamous households estimated to be affected by the move to Universal Credit, and b) how many polygamous households receiving income-related state benefits is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.

In Universal Credit, the process is that the one spouse will claim for the other in the same way as an unmarried couple, and any other adults living in the household will have to claim as single people on the basis of their own circumstances. This process already happens where a polygamous marriage is not recognised in law.

Legacy income-related benefits provide for polygamous marriages only where the marriage was contracted in a country where polygamy was legal when the parties concerned were domiciled there. Provision is at the lowest level consistent with our human rights obligations. These rules have been in place since the introduction of Income Support in 1988.

Income-related benefits are not payable for spouses who do not reside in Great Britain.

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