Sisters 'treated worse than lesbians'

Two sisters are taking an inheritance tax claim to the European court of human rights, claiming that the law in Britain and Northern Ireland offers them worse protection than if they were a lesbian couple.

According to the Guardian, Joyce and Sybil Burden, both in their eighties, are appealing to Strasbourg's grand chamber of 17 judges, fearing that the house they jointly own in Wiltshire will have to be sold when one of them dies in order to pay the inheritance tax.

Although the Burdens' solicitors have been working on the case, the sisters had to turn to a chamber of seven judges last December to be given the right to be treated the same as people in civil partnerships. However, on that occasion they were unsuccessful, despite having lived together their entire lives.

In Britain and Northern Ireland, married couples and gay people in civil partnerships are exempt from tax on each other's estate. The House of Commons overturned an amendment from the House of Lords, which would have granted the same rights to siblings over the age of 30 who had cohabited for a minimum 12 years.

Judge Pavlovschi, from Moldova, one of the judges who found in favour of the sisters in December, but was overruled said: "It strikes me as absolutely awful that, once one of the two sisters dies, the surviving sister's sufferings on account of her closest relative's death should be multiplied by the risk of losing her family home because she cannot afford to pay inheritance tax in respect of the deceased sister's share of it. I find such a situation fundamentally unfair."

Judge Bonello, from Malta, and Judge Garlicki, from Poland, added in a statement: "It is obvious that the state will be able to collect its tax in full upon the death of the surviving applicant. But the state wants to do it twice: first upon the death of the first sister and later by imposing a new inheritance tax on what still remains of the estate."

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