New Judgment: Ilott v The Blue Cross & Ors  UKSC 17
15 Wednesday Mar 2017
On appeal from  EWCA Civ 797
This appeal considered whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the award made at first instance on the respondent’s claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, and whether, in deciding to re-exercise the court’s discretion to make an award under this Act, the Court of Appeal erred in taking account of the factual position as at the date of the appeal rather than the date of the original hearing. It also considered whether the Court of Appeal erred in its approach to the maintenance standard under 1975 Act, was wrong to structure an award under the 1975 Act in a way which allowed the Respondent the preserve her entitlement to state benefits, and erred in its application of the balancing exercise required under the 1975 Act.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the charities’ appeal, finding that the Court of Appeal’s decision must be set aside as the District Judge made neither of the two errors on which the Court of Appeal relied to revisit his judgment. Therefore, the Supreme Court reinstated the decision to award Mrs Ilott £50,000 from her mother’s estate as reasonable provision, rather than the £143,000 awarded by the Court of Appeal which had sought to establish the quantum of the sum had the mother and daughter not been estranged, and to make an award so as to not impact Mrs Ilott’s benefit entitlements.
This is because, for an applicant other than a spouse or partner, reasonable financial provision is limited to what it would be reasonable for her to receive for maintenance only – judged as an objective standard by the court. This is due to the deliberate legislative choice, attaching significance in English law to testamentary freedom. Thus the 1975 Act does not require the judge to fix some hypothetical standard of reasonable provision and then increase or discount it with reference to variable factors. The District Judge had also expressly considered impact on Mrs Ilott’s benefit entitlement twice in his judgment, making his award for her to replace worn household furniture and so recognising that she needed not to have over £16,000 in savings to remain below the relevant threshold for means tested benefits entitlement. Finally, the Supreme Court recognised the weight that should be afforded to the mother, Mrs Jackson’s, very clear wishes regarding not having Mrs Ilott in her will, and the long period of estrangement.