You may not remember the about the Burden s. Both unmarried, they lived their lives in a house in Wiltshire inherited from their parents. Good, kind, dutiful people, they devoted themselves to looking after a succession of elderly relations in their .
But as they grew , they grew worried. They began to fear about what would become of the surviving after one of them died.
Especially, they feared for what would become of their jointly owned , which was b with age- shared ociations, so dear to them both.
The problem was the taxman. For, though the s’ relationship was as close and long-standing as that of most husbands and — and (to speak the truth) greatly more so than many — the Government was not prepared, as it was for married s, to protect the joint for the surviving once she was on her own.
Instead, it would tax the deceased ’s share of the property. Since its value had greatly increased in the many decades of their ownership, this meant the surviving would, on bereavement, be turfed out of her own because she would need to sell it to pay the inhence tax.
Virginia Utley with her niece Livvy – Catherine Utley’s . The siblings lived together to provide her with a stable
For years, the Burdens wrote to successive Chancellors at Budget-time to ask whether the Government would consider deferring the inhence tax in cases like theirs until after both deaths.
Every time, they were t that this was only allowed for married s.
When civil pnerships became law in 2004, extending the rights of married s to s of the same , the Burdens saw their chance and took their case to court.
They didn’t ask to be civil pners, but they did want to be treated in the same way for inhence tax. There was nothing in the law to say that civil pners had to be in a ual relationship.
Wasn’t it, they argued, unfair discrimination not to allow devoted, long-term cohating s equal treatment for inhence tax purposes? In 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against them. The s, by then aged 90 and 82, were t that without a nding legal commitment between them, they could not have the adtages that went with a nding legal commitment.
They could not enter a nding legal commitment because they were s. And there was no further explanation as to why s could not enter a nding legal commitment.
All this has become topical again: the Government is conducting a review on the future of civil pnerships because same- marriage has left things messy.
Gay s may now choose between civil pnership or marriage, heteroual s have marriage — and yet pners who live together permanently as adults but are blood-related have no access to any safeguards at all.
The most likely outcome of the Government’s review will be that civil pnerships will be opened up to opposite s, so that any two unmarried people will be able to benefit from the tax breaks they offer, as long, it seems, as their relationship is presumed to be based on ual attraction or activity.
Shamefully, the Government plans, as ever, to leave members who live together permanently as adults high and dry. Now, though, the senior Conservative r and official historian of the Conservative Py, Lord Lexden, has launched the latest heroic attempt — there have been many by others over the years — to st the process of ending this glaring injustice.
This prominent r, who has done much to promote rights, has a ll before Parliament which would extend the right to form a civil pnership to siblings over the age of 30 who have lived together for a minimum of 12 consecutive years.
Catherine (right) and Ginda Utley have raised Catherine’s Livvy, now 22, together. They are campaigning to be recognised as a legally and for inhence purposes
At its second reading, Lord Lexden argued that now same- marriage was available for s, it was time to reach out to those who need access to rights and safeguards but who have been ignored by the State.
It was shameful, Lord Lexden said, that, in all too many cases, long-term cohating siblings, often in the most devoted relationships, were left by the State to cope as they could, at the time of their deepest grief, with the added misery of the loss of a d shared .
Here, I declare an interest. My Virginia and I, and my Livvy (now in her mid-20s), were at the House of Lords to last week’s debate.
Virginia and I have lived together for most of our lives. When I had Livvy, Virginia stood by me, moving out of her and buying a house with me and sharing the childe so my could grow up in a stable, loving .
It has always seemed dreadful to me that the Government would my ’s decency and generosity to me by presenting her with a tax ll on my death which, if the current situation does not change, would mean her having to lose her .
The er we get, the more we worry about it.
How moving and how encouraging it was, then, to hear speaker after speaker rise to support Lord Lexden.
Many rs had their own examples of the difficulties faced by the survivors of lifelong platonic pnerships after the death.
For example, there were the two unmarried s who ran Baroness Wilcox’s local post . When one died, the other lost not only the per she d so much but the house and the iness as well.
Lord Alton mentioned the sort of unuming people who, because they do not join protest marches or organise campaign s, are too often overlooked.
He t of a woman who lived with her for 30 years in their house in London, which they owned jointly.
The d her th his final illness. He died, comforted by the belief that their joint savings would pay for her e in age.
In the event, the inhence tax on his share of the property — bought for a modest sum decades earlier — came to more than they had managed to save, and she had to sell the house, with all its mries and in the hood where she was surrounded by a net of support.
Lord True, who for decades was a councillor in Richmond-upon-Thames, felt terrible about not having been able to help two s, former s, who had lived for 70 years in their parents’ .
After the death of one, the other found herself d
out — and away from all her mries and all that was familiar to her — by inhence tax. ‘I could do nothing,’ he said, ‘about that profound injustice and suffering caused to the surviving .’
The problems faced by live-in members who act as ers, saving the State a fortune in social e, were raised by the formidable lawyer, Baroness Deech, who has made tireless efforts over the years to persuade successive governments to address the lack of rights for platonic pners.
‘Why should such ers not enjoy some tax breaks and financial support,’ she asked, ‘especially if they stand to be evicted from their when the ed-for per dies?’
The Government response to all of this was floundering and nonsensical.
‘Civil pnerships,’ said the minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, ‘ . . . are a significant instrument, allowing same- s to have their intimate pner relationship recognised by society and the law.’ Of course she is right, and that was the purpose for which they were introduced. But had she not grasped Lord Lexden’s whole point, that that was 14 years ago and society has moved on?
Same- s can now marry, so it is time to use the civil pnership legislation to address an injustice that disgracefully remains unaddressed.
The minister’s main point is that inhence tax problems faced by sibling s must not be solved th allowing them civil pnerships because this was not ‘an appropriate vehicle’. Any extension of inhence tax deferral to s would be a matter for the Treasury.
Which brings us back, full circle, to the Burden s — and that argument that they could not have the tax break without the pnership, and they could not have the pnership because they were s.
If the Government believes platonic is somehow inferior to ual outside of marriage and must be ed, then it must explain why.
And if it cannot, it must act now to find a way to address the injustice. Feelings have been well and truly stirred.
The genie is out of the bottle.
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