Scottish Government unveils plans for new benefit to combat 'funeral poverty'

10-point plan aims to redress Scotland’s “postcode lottery” of burial costs.

The Scottish Government has announced details of a new benefit to help those experiencing difficulty with funeral costs, which it intends to launch by Summer 2019.

The Funeral Expense Assistance benefit is one of ten actions the government has committed to as part of their Funeral Costs Plan.

The plan also includes newly published guidance on funeral costs by December 2019, new and improved public advice on funeral planning, strengthened consumer protection for funeral expenses, a Social Innovation Fund to help tackle funeral poverty, and a commitment to giving the public more money-saving options through a funeral bond pilot.

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance launched the new plan while visiting the Renfrewshire Wide Credit Union, which along with White Cart, is one of two credit unions in Paisley releasing new products to help people plan and pay for funerals.

“The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for anyone. It can be even harder when money is tight. We know funeral costs can push people into poverty – and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties. That is why we are taking decisive action to tackle this growing issue and have engaged with local authorities.” Equalities Secretary Angela Constance

Constance said: “The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for anyone. It can be even harder when money is tight. We know funeral costs can push people into poverty – and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties.

“That is why we are taking decisive action to tackle this growing issue and have engaged with local authorities, the funeral sector and other support services. I am pleased by the willingness to work together to find solutions that support more affordable funerals.

“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting those who need it most following a bereavement, which is why we will introduce a new Funeral Expense Assistance from summer 2019.”

Constance’s remarks appear to respond to the conclusion of the Citizen Advice Scotland report ‘Funeral Poverty in Scotland: A Review for Scottish Government’, released in February 2016, which argued: “Many of the recommendations will require additional thought and scoping and some will inevitably face opposition. However we believe that in order to reduce the instance of funeral poverty in Scotland co-ordinated and sustained action is needed from today and we look forward to future action by all partners in helping Scotland’s bereaved families.”

The CAS report was followed by a national conference on funeral poverty held by the Scottish Government in November last year, which has since hosted a series of round-table discussions on the issue.

As of September 2016, the cost of burying a loved one had risen by 8% over the preceding year, with cremations rising in cost by 11%

The average 2016 cost of a basic burial in Scotland was over £1,300, excluding undertakers’ fees, while the average cremation cost was £670.

The most expensive council area for a basic burial was Edinburgh at £2,253, while the least expensive was the Western Isles at £701.

As of September 2016, the cost of burying a loved one had risen by 8 per cent over the preceding year, with cremations rising in cost by 11 per cent.

“Low-income families in particular, who are finding it hard just to pay their food and fuel bills, can suddenly face a bill for several thousands of pounds which they simply can't pay." David Robertson, author of Citizens Advice Scotland report ‘Cost of Saying Goodbye 2016’

Citizens Advice Scotland, which compiled the figures in their report ‘Cost of Saying Goodbye 2016’, described Scotland’s current burial situation as a "postcode lottery", with burial fees having risen in all but three of Scotland's local authorities over 2015-16, while in some areas only private cremations were offered.

A 2016 Study by the Stirling Citizens Advice bureau also found a sharp rise in so-called ‘pauper’s funerals’, otherwise known as National Assistance funerals, which cost local authorities roughly £500,000 in the last year. Report author David Robertson told press at the time: “Low-income families in particular, who are finding it hard just to pay their food and fuel bills, can suddenly face a bill for several thousands of pounds which they simply can't pay."

Funeral payments, which are part of the regulated social fund, are among the social security powers being devolved to Scotland.

Former Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said in February 2016: “"Our new powers over funeral payments will give us the opportunity to set up a benefit which is simpler and more streamlined.”

Picture courtesy of Mathias Appel

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