Time to treat sibling couples like married couples?

Before you get alarmed, we’re not talking about anything illegal! But with the news that civil partnerships are to be opened up to all, the debate over the lack of rights available to cohabiting sibling couples has reignited.

Just like marriage, siblings are not allowed to enter into civil partnerships so cannot take advantage of enhanced rights available to civil partners.

A Private Member’s Bill has been introduced in the House of Lords aimed at giving more rights to cohabitating siblings. At the moment, siblings who live together are in a similar (although not identical) position to cohabiting couples. For example, unlike spouses or civil partners, a brother or sister cannot inherit assets from a sibling without those assets being subject to inheritance tax. However, unlike cohabiting couples, a sibling may automatically inherit their brother or sister’s estate if they die without leaving a will but their position is still much weaker than a spouse. Any property claims or disputes are dealt with in the same way as for cohabiting couples.

If introduced, the new laws would allow siblings (aged over 30) who have lived together for 12 years or more to be treated in the same way as civil partners.

Although the number of sibling cohabitants in the UK is unknown, there have been some prominent campaigners. Ten years ago, Joyce and Sybil Burden took their fight for sibling couples to enjoy the same inheritance tax benefits as married couples all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

The government has turned its attention in recent years to re-defining what the modern family looks like. Watch this space to see if they extend it to cohabiting sibling couples.

Anna Kaznowska

Karen McGonagle