Funeral payments consultation

Scottish funeralA funeral payments consultation is underway in Scotland. It’s part of a broader 13 week Social Security Consultation that Scottish Government is carrying out as it shapes its first ever Social Security Bill.

The consultation closes on Friday, 28 October 2016. The legislation is due to be introduced to the Scotland Parliament by June 2017.

The consultation seeks views from the public on benefits and how they are delivered. It covers disability and carers payments – though you can just respond to the section of the survey that you’re interested in: I completed the bit on funeral payments only; just took 10 minutes.

Funeral payments summary

  • The funeral payment is a grant for people on low income benefits who are responsible for paying for a funeral.
  • Government sees the funeral payment as one of the ways to help tackle funeral poverty.
  • They want to reach more people with the funeral payment to reduce the need for borrowing.
  • They want to create a more predictable benefit, so that people can make better informed decisions when they are committing to paying for a funeral.
  • They are seeking views on how this could be achieved.

My own view: let’s think outside the box a bit folks (sorry for the pun). The payment should follow the person who has died, rather than a whole hideous rigmarole of deciding whether an estranged partner or someone else is deemed responsible for the funeral – then that person has to be assessed for benefits to see whether they can claim a funeral payment. If someone is on benefits, let’s just pay for their funeral. We’d be paying for them if they were still alive. Also, keep it simple. Let’s back away from fixed notions of what a funeral has to be. And finally, with the public purse, let’s direct benefits into natural burial grounds. Much better for the environment.

Funeral payment system NOW

The DWP funeral payment covers the costs for the purchase of graves and burial or cremation fees. The amount awarded to meet these fees is uncapped. The payment also covers up to £700 towards other costs associated with a funeral, such as a coffin, a hearse, funeral director fees, minister’s fees and flowers. (The consultation thankfully extends ‘minister’s fees’ to ‘celebrant’s fees’. In order to be eligible for a payment, the claimant must be in receipt of one of the low income qualifying benefits and be considered responsible for the funeral. In order to apply they must take responsibility for the funeral and meet the DWP rules on your relationship with the deceased. An application has to be be submitted within 3 months from the date the death was registered, this needs to include evidence of the costs associated with the funeral including receipts. The amount awarded can be recovered from the Estate of the deceased. Any money put aside by the deceased to cover funeral costs, eg life insurance, pre-paid funeral plans, is deducted from the award. Deductions are also made for contributions, for example from family members.

Scottish Government wants the new benefit to be more streamlined, predictable and better integrated with Scottish policy and services. They want to make payments faster so that people don‟t have to delay organising a funeral. They recognise the impact of rising funeral costs on families on low incomes and the long term impact this can have on their finances and how they experience their grief. They want to reach more people with the new funeral payment to reduce this burden.

Scottish Government commissioned a review to identify opportunities for preventative work in relation to “funeral poverty” in Scotland and the roles that different organisations should take in this. The Funeral Poverty Report was researched and written for them by last week’s blogger, John Birrell, chair of the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty, working with Citizens Advice Scotland. It was published in February 2016. The report found that “the rise in funeral costs means that paying for a funeral can be a significant financial shock for some and there is a substantial shortfall between the cost of a funeral and what people can afford. The funeral payment cannot solve all of these problems. Building on the work in response to the review of funeral poverty, we will publish a funeral costs plan to tackle issues relating to the affordability of funerals. This will include considerations around introducing a funeral bond to help people save for their own funerals. A series of Ministerial round table events and a national conference on funeral poverty will inform the funeral costs plan. We have also set up a reference group to advise on the development of the funeral payment.”

Government’s consultation states: “There is very little data available on the funeral payment and it is difficult to make estimates going forward because, while we have estimates for overall death rates, it is not possible to predict the circumstances of the families who will be bereaved. In 2014/15 there were 6,300 Scottish applications to the DWP Social Fund for a funeral payment and 4,300 of those resulted in an award. The average DWP funeral payment for the UK was £1,375.

So back to my point. Make it predictable. Let the funeral payment follow the deceased.

One of the questions in the consultation is what a standard low cost funeral should include:

  • Professional funeral director fees – advice and administration
  • Removal or collection of the deceased
  • Care and storage of the deceased before the funeral
  • Coffin
  • Hearse or transport of the deceased
  • Limousines or other car(s) for the family
  • Flowers
  • Death notice in a paper/local advertising to announce details of funeral (time and location)
  • Fees associated with the ceremony e.g. for the minister or other celebrant
  • Order of service sheets
  • Catering for wake/funeral reception
  • Venue hire for a wake/funeral reception
  • Memorial headstone or plaque
  • Travel expenses to arrange or attend the funeral

(Not sure what happened to the burial/cremations fees.)

This is where I think we have to get back to basics. Make a pot of soup and cater at home. Crack a bottle and toast a life. Keep it simple.

They ask too, what money should be deducted from any funeral payment:

  • money in the deceased’s bank account
  • funeral plan/insurance policy
  • contributions from charities or employers
  • money from an occupational pension scheme
  • money from a burial club

And they ask about ideas for speeding up and simplifying payment (back to my point about the money following the deceased, not the friends/family left to organise the funeral).

Please share your views. Do the survey. Email Scottish Government or phone 0131 244 8062 ext 48062. 

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Organising a funeral?

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