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Tackling funeral poverty

Published: 5 Oct 2015 10:00

Report to help bereaved families.

A new report to look at ways of relieving the financial burden and debt that bereaved relatives and friends face when organising a funeral has been commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Figures released today in Royal London's National Funeral Cost Index found that funeral costs averaged at £3,481 compared to £1,815 in 2005 which is a 92 per cent increase in Scotland. Rising costs are due to pressures on burial space, changes to regulation and rising charges. Costs are expected to continue to rise in the coming years.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil today announced he has asked the chair of the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty, John Birrell, working with Citizens Advice Scotland, to come up with a series of recommendations to address the rising costs of funerals.

Speaking at the Scottish Older People's Assembly's (SOPA) annual gathering, Mr Neil said: "It is unacceptable that a bereaved family, trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, should go through the stress of worrying about how they can afford to pay for the funeral.

"There are too many examples of funerals being delayed and families facing uncertainty when they should have the space to grieve. Many end up with expensive credit card or payday loan debts, or need to borrow from friends or apply to charities to pay for the funeral. We do not want to see people spiralling into debt because of these costs.

"As a result of the Smith Commission, we will have powers over funeral payments, but it's clear that this is just only one part of the challenge of tackling funeral poverty.

"John Birrell's report will look at how the Scottish Government can take a more coordinated approach which will help bereaved families on low incomes organise a respectful funeral without taking on unsustainable debt."

Funeral Payments for people on low incomes are made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and are currently reserved. The Smith Commission recommended that the Regulated Social Fund, including funeral payments, should be devolved to Scotland. DWP payments averaged at £1,375 in 2014/2015 leaving a significant shortfall against the cost of a low cost funeral.

Work to look at how the Scottish Government can use its powers over funeral payments has found that users of the benefits find the rules too complicated and the process too slow and intrusive, preventing families from giving their loved ones a timely dignified funeral.

John Birrell said: "With the costs of funerals increasing year on year and with current financial pressures there is often a funding gap for people arranging a funeral.

"I look forward to bringing forward recommendations on how we can reduce the costs and stress on bereaved families."

Tom Berney, Chair of the Scottish Older People's Assembly, added: "The spiralling cost of funerals and the lack of transparency about options is an issue that has been raised repeatedly at the local meetings we have held across Scotland this year.

"The Scottish Older People's Assembly is very pleased to see that action is being taken by the government to address this issue. Funeral options must be affordable and available for everyone and we hope that older people will be involved as part of this review."

Stewart Wilson, chief executive of Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland said: "We warmly welcome the commissioning of the report into funeral poverty and its impact in Scotland. Every year, CBCS receives over 12000 calls from bereaved people and we often hear first hand about the anxiety and distress funeral poverty causes.

"In the aftermath of the death of a loved one many people are naturally deeply distressed. They face making financial decisions about funeral arrangements and may make choices that are not affordable out of respect for the person who has died.

"CBCS also endorses Mr Neil's decision to ask John Birrell to lead this significant work. As a past Chair of Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland, recently the Convenor of the Scottish Grief and Bereavement Hub and with many years of experience as a Healthcare Chaplain in the Scottish Health Service, John has a unique and comprehensive knowledge of bereavement in Scotland and is exceptionally well placed to undertake this very important role."

Notes to editors

More information about the Scottish Older People's Assembly is available at: http://www.scotopa.org.uk/

Average funeral costs from 2015 were taken from Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2015 by Simon Cox, Royal London Group. Figures from 2005 were from Sunlife.

Last year Citizen Advice Scotland reported a 35 per cent increase in the number of clients faced with funeral debt. The report is available at: http://www.cas.org.uk/system/files/Real%20Deal%20-%20Funeral%20Costs.pdf