Response to the Department for Work and Pensions Consultation on proposed reforms to the Funeral Expenses Payments scheme.
Citizens Advice Scotland has highlighted the issue of funeral poverty and rising funeral costs in Scotland over the past few years. Since 2012/2013 Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) have seen an increasing number of clients seeking advice related to funerals and this has remained high.
There are a variety of costs which contribute towards funeral costs and funeral poverty, including funeral directors charges; local authority charges and an increasing gap between the available benefit and the cost of a funeral.
- Citizens Advice Bureaux frequently advise clients who, despite receiving assistance from the Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payment scheme, are unable to afford to pay for a funeral for their loved one. A CAS report showed that the average cost of a funeral in Scotland was £3,550 and the average Social Fund Funeral Payment was £1,375, leaving an average shortfall for an average funeral of £2,175.
- One factor which contributes to the shortfall between the Social Fund Funeral Payment and the cost of an average funeral is it has not been increased 2003 when the Government redefined the “other costs” element of the Social Fund’s Funeral Expenses Payment as a “contribution” to other costs and capped it at £700. CAS recommends that the Department for Work and Pensions considers removing this cap on “other costs”.
- CAS recommends that the level of Funeral Payments should be raised in order to cover the full cost of a basic funeral. CAS research estimated that one in ten people struggle to pay for a funeral. This can lead to people either getting into debt or getting into a worse financial situation than they are already in, for example by having to use high cost short term credit to cover the costs of a funeral. Struggling to pay for a funeral can also negatively impact on an individual’s grieving process and, consequently, their mental health.
- CAS agrees with the Government proposal to allow recipients of Funeral Payments to receive additional contributions towards the cost of a funeral from other sources without these being deducted from the value of the award.
- Evidence from CAB highlights that greater thought overall needs to be given to the assignation of the responsible person status in relation to eligibility for a Funeral Payment. It is also important to recognise that family structures are not simple and Citizens Advice Bureaux see clients who are unable to ask relatives for help.
- CAS supports the Government’s proposal to extend the application period to claim Funeral Payment from 3 months to 6 months.
- CAS supports the proposal to for a shorter application form for claims relating to children’s funerals.
- CAS supports the proposal to clarify the regulations to make it clear that Funeral Payments can cover the cost of a burial plot with or without associated exclusive rights of burial.
- CAS supports the Government’s proposal that applicants and funeral directors should be able to submit evidence electronically to support a claim for a Funeral Payment. However, claiming for Funeral Payments should not become digital by default and applicants must have the option to submit evidence either way.