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Social Security Benefits: Polygamy

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what reviews he has conducted of the payment of benefits to claimants in polygamous marriages; what guidelines have been issued in respect of payment of benefits and polygamous marriage; what benefits are payable; what estimate he has made of (a) the number of individuals affected and (b) the cost of payments; what consultations have been carried out, including consultations with other Government departments; and if he will make a statement. (185245)

The current rules for paying benefits to people in polygamous marriages have been in place since 1988. In November 2006 we asked officials to look at the social security benefit rules in place for the treatment of valid polygamous marriages and consider whether any changes were needed. As part of that process the Department consulted other Departments with an interest, such as the Home Office, Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and the then Department for Constitutional Affairs. The conclusion was that the current arrangements were the best possible.

Contributory benefits are generally not payable where the claimant has more than one spouse. In the income related benefits, subject to entitlement conditions being met, the claimant is entitled to receive the couple rate of benefit for themselves and one spouse, and the difference between the couple and single rate for each additional spouse.

In Great Britain, polygamy is only recognised as valid in law in circumstances where the marriage ceremony has been performed in a country whose laws permit polygamy and the parties to the marriage were domiciled there at the time. In addition, immigration rules have generally prevented the formation of polygamous households in this country since 1988.

We do not collect data on the number of people in a valid polygamous marriage claiming a social security benefit. Information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.