The National Association of Funeral Directors has welcomed the Government’s announcement of plans to simplify the process for making claims under the Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payments scheme, but remains concerned that the changes don’t go far enough in addressing some of the benefit’s biggest frailties.
In a written statement on 22 January, the new Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Kit Malthouse MP, confirmed a number of changes that will come into effect on 2 April 2018, including:-
- enabling claimants to receive contributions from charities, relatives or friends without them being deducted from the overall sum payable toward funeral costs;
- claimants will have six months from the funeral date in which to make an application for help with funeral costs, instead of the current three months;
- evidence needed in support of the claim will be able to be submitted electronically.
The announcement follows a consultation held by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the summer of 2017, to which the NAFD and many NAFD members responded. In its response, the NAFD highlighted a wide range of serious failings and concerns in relation to the Social Fund, and criticised the DWP for the narrow parameters of the consultation as it excluded key issues such as how eligibility could be better and more easily established by bereaved families, the length of processing time, the inadequacy of the £700 ‘other funeral expenses’ payment and poor levels of signposting to the benefit by government agencies.
These are issues that have also been raised through the NAFD’s meetings with Mr Malthouse’s predecessors across more than a decade and yet were still missing from the long overdue review of the Social Fund.
In a response to the announcement by Mr Malthouse, Alison Crake, President of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said: “The NAFD welcomes any moves to make the Social Fund funeral payment simpler to apply for and more effective in providing financial support to those who need it.
“However, we remain concerned that the changes announced continue to avoid tackling some of the benefit’s biggest failings – such as the lack of a proper eligibility screening system, the long wait for a decision and the fact that the amount provided in the benefit to cover the main costs of a funeral hasn’t risen since 2003, yet local council burial and cremation fees are covered in full, no matter what the cost. There are also fundamental issues with the wording and interpretation of the Statutory Instrument which underpins the Social Fund funeral payment. These are issues that the NAFD and others have raised time and time again, yet which the Department for Work and Pensions seem to be wilfully avoiding.
“The NAFD recognises the financial challenges faced by the Government, however this situation is simply not sustainable. We are delighted that the new Minister has already reached out to the funeral profession, and hope that his appointment to the role marks the start of a greater willingness by the DWP to address these ongoing issues – which cause heartache for tens of thousands of bereaved people every year and leave funeral directors picking up the pieces (and often the shortfall too).”