The Scottish Government has published draft regulations relating to ‘Funeral Expense Assistance’. They are a disappointment; the Government seems to see the purpose as being to replicate, to the greatest extent possible, the existing scheme of funeral payments, and that scheme largely fails in its objectives. Funeral payments fail to reach probably half of the people who should get them.
The core problem is that the benefit is simply too complex. The draft regulations have these objectives:
3 (2) Regulations 5 and 6 describe eligibility conditions relating to the applicant’s relationship to the
deceased person and multiple applications.
(3) Regulation 7 describes eligibility conditions relating to the applicant’s residence, the last
residence of the deceased person and the place where the funeral takes place.
(4) Regulations 8 and 9 describe eligibility conditions relating to the financial means of the applicant,
based on receipt of income related benefits, and of the estate of the deceased person.
There are too many moving parts for this ever to work. Look at this regulation:
5.—(1) To qualify for funeral expense assistance the applicant, or the partner of the applicant, must
have accepted responsibility for the expenses of the funeral, and the Scottish Ministers must
consider it to be reasonable for that responsibility to have been accepted.
(2) In determining whether it was reasonable to accept responsibility, the Scottish Ministers must
(a) whether someone other than the applicant, or the partner of the applicant, would be the
nearest relative of the deceased person in terms of section 65(3) to (6) (arrangements on
death of adult) of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016; and
(b) any other relevant circumstances that the applicant brings to their attention.
There are five elements in this process: the circumstances and resources of a claimant, the circumstances and resources of the deceased, the arrangements made for a funeral, the relationship between the claimant and the deceased and the situation of other relatives who might potentially pay instead. Of course it can’t work.
What else could the government have done? We already have public funerals for isolated cases where people have no resources. We could go for a much simpler, universal approach: remove local authority fees for lairs and cremations. The cost is certain and relatively predictable, and I don’t think we need to worry about abuse, fraud, incentives to die or stimulating take-up from undeserving cases.
There is a general point to consider, too. The Government is beginning with funerals because they’re relatively straightforward, but their approach has been to take the existing scheme and “drag and drop” the regulations with a few tweaks. Far better to rethink.