Is there scope for universal support for funeral payments in Scotland?

Funeral payments are being devolved to the new Scottish social security system.  The current arrangements are more than a little haphazard.  The means-tested Funeral Expenses Payment covers some of the basic expenses (typically not all), but the scheme administered by the DWP has some of the worst features of any means test in the system.  It calls for information about the deceased person’s estate, the funeral, the means of the applicant, the relationship between the claimant and the deceased person, and the position of other family members who might bear the costs instead.  Only half the people entitled get the benefit.   The average funeral expenses payment, successfully claimed by less than 4500 in Scotland,  is a little under £1400.

A consultation document on arrangements for funerals in Scotland has given me some material to think about.  There are about 58,000 deaths in Scotland every year.  Currently 68% of people are cremated, at an average cost of £738 for the cremation itself, and 32% of people are buried, with an average cost of £1428 for the burial; but the fees vary from £586 to £870 for cremation, and £705 to £2,340 for burials.

Funeral arrangements can cause dreadful hardship.  Some relatives walk away; some funerals are left to public authorities to arrange.  Others find themselves with a large bill, about £3600 on average.  Abolishing fees would not be cheap; on these figures, the bill would come to something like £56m a year, less £3m saved on Funeral Expenses Payment.  And it would not be completely straightforward, because there are 15 private crematoria and numerous private cemeteries in Scotland.  Many of the true beneficiaries would be people who are inheriting from an estate.  But this is an area which affects everyone, and where it’s in everyone’s interests to make collective arrangements to manage a major foreseeable expense.

2 comments

  1. Alan Parker

    It’s the lack of choice on how a family bury’s a loved one that causes most concern , we now have coffin clubs springing up in the UK to help deal with the costs, were prefab cardboard coffins from Earth to Heaven in West Sussex are sent for family’s who can decorate them themselves or choose a design , costs for funerals are far to high and I might add may not be necessary if more choice was allowed.

    We cannot ignore the fact that deals for over 50s on funeral plans and life plans are extremely cheap and seriously need to be educated into society , for some are as little as fifty pence to a pound a week.

    As much as I found the DWP process difficult when my brother died I was thankful for the help , but it could be so so different if the will and wherewithal was there in society in general. were a change of attitude at all levels is needed.

  2. Ian Davidson

    As a former adviser I dealt with a few “funeral benefit cases” and it was always difficult explaining to those bereaved (including in at least one instance, parent of a young child who had died), the limitations and complexities of the DWP Funeral Payments scheme. It is bizarre that whilst the state provides support from birth, when it gets to the end stage there is such a lamentable response. It can cause major problems within families. Funding for a “decent” funeral (however that is defined) by the state should be a given “back-stop” for all citizens subject to: a. The state having the right to claim some costs back from the deceased estate but placing no financial burden on surviving relatives; b. Regulated pricing in the funeral industry including the ridiculous “post-code” lottery in local authority fees. Funeral plans offered by the financial industry (for no matter who is “selling” them they are financial products just like any other) can be a “bargain” for some who die within a few years of making contributions but for many others, based on average life expectancy, can be a “rip-off” with the total lifetime contributions far exceeding the costs of the funeral. As a society, and certainly in Scotland, we can do better than that for what is a relatively small amount of public spending based on Paul’s estimates?

Leave a Reply