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Welfare payments to polygamous may rise

15 January 2016

GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Loophole: the Department of Work & Pensions, central London

Loophole: the Department of Work & Pensions, central London

CLOSING a loophole in the welfare system which allowed people in a polygamous marriage to claim payments will actually mean that some polygamous households can receive more money.

Although polygamous marriages cannot be contracted in the UK, the state has long recognised the polygamous marriages of migrants, as long as all parties were living in a country that permitted polygamy when the marriage began.

Since at least the 1980s, it has been possible for a person in a polygamous marriage to claim income-replacement benefits as the spouse of another claimant.

A recent House of Commons briefing paper, published last week, explained that, for instance, a husband and his first wife could claim income-based jobseeker’s allowance as a couple, and then a second wife could claim an additional sum, although it would be lower than that given to a separate individual claimant.

The previous Government decided several years ago that the new Universal Credit welfare scheme would not recognise additional partners in polygamous marriages.

By treating second, third, or fourth, or fifth wives as separate claimants, however, the new system could hand out more money to the members of a polygamous family than before, as the additional spousal payments were less than those that can now be given to individuals.

Contributory benefits, such as the state pension, have never made any provision for those in polygamous marriages.

In answer to a question from an MP in 2014, the Office of National Statistics said that it was not able to provide any information on how many polygamous marriages there were in England and Wales.

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