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New Report on Funeral Poverty

3 Feb 2016

A new report on funeral poverty by CAS has found funeral director and local authority costs should be more consistent and bereavement support more widely available.

he report by John Birrell, chair of the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty, and Citizens Advice Scotland, highlighted factors that contribute to funeral poverty and called on the UK and Scottish Governments, the funeral industry, local authorities and others, to take action.

The independent report’s recommendations include: 
• Ensuring social security funeral payments meet the real costs of a funeral
• Parity in burial and cremation charges charged by local authorities 
• Licensing of funeral directors
• Encouraging people to talk about their own funeral wishes with their families 
• A new national ‘Scottish Funeral Bond’ to standardise costs and allow more people to save for their own funeral

In response the Scottish Government, who commissioned the independent report, confirmed it will: 
• Speed up the time in which a decision is made on funeral payments, once it receives the devolved powers through the Scotland Bill, with an aim to process applications within 10 working days, allowing people to make better informed decisions when they are planning a funeral
• Put in place monitoring arrangements to track funeral poverty, alongside plans to evaluate funeral payments
• Organise a national funeral poverty conference and round table discussions between Scottish Ministers and stakeholders to promote action 
• Work with stakeholders to provide information to help people plan ahead for their own funeral
• Consider whether a ‘Scottish Funeral Bond’ outlined in the report, could allow people to plan ahead

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said:

“With funeral costs rising above inflation, and many low income families not having a funeral plan or savings in place for a funeral, we are concerned about funerals being delayed and families taking on unmanageable debt.

“This report outlines a number of recommendations to tackle the problem head on, but we know that we can’t solve funeral poverty alone, which is why we will bring together funeral directors, charities, councils and health and social care services for the first ever national conference on funeral poverty.

“We know funeral directors will want the best for their customers and we plan to work with them and others to explore the recommendations in the report including whether services could be offered through a ‘Scottish Funeral Bond’ scheme. This could help unlock lower cost options for people who choose them.

“Our new powers over funeral payments will give us the opportunity to set up a benefit which is simpler and more streamlined. Speeding up the application process will help bereaved people know if they will receive a funeral payment, and we believe it will create more certainty for funeral directors, allowing them to give appropriate advice and potentially eliminating the need to take a deposit from those who make a successful application.”

John Birrell said:

“As the cost of funerals continues to rise, we have identified four key areas where action is needed – the cost of the burial or cremation, the funeral director costs, the inadequacy of the Department and Work and Pensions’ support and the choices made by those arranging funerals. For each of these we have brought forward suggestions for action.

“I am increasingly concerned that if action is not taken bereaved relatives are going to experience more and more distress and I hope the suggestions made in our report will go some way to mitigate this.”

Chief Operating Officer at CAS, Anne Lavery, said:

“Scottish CAB advisers have been reporting significant increases in the numbers of people coming to them for advice on funeral costs. In the last year alone the number of cases has risen by 35 per cent with approximately one in every 30 funerals in Scotland resulting in someone seeking advice from Citizens Advice. These cases often come as part of a complex set of circumstance for the client, including struggling with low incomes, servicing unsustainable debt, struggles with family relationships and relying on crisis support, as well as grieving for the loss of a family member or friend.

“We have been working hard to raise awareness of the issue, and so were delighted to be asked to work on this report by the Scottish Government. If implemented, the recommendations contained within the report, will help to ensure Scottish families are more able to organise a respectful funeral at an affordable price.”

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