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.