• Social Fund cap unchanged since 2003
  • New Bill to be proposed in Parliament today
  • More than half of those who apply for a Funeral Payment each year are turned down

The National Association of Funeral Directors today welcomes a report by Royal London calling for the Government to index-link the Social Fund Payment to help low income families pay for a loved one’s funeral.

The £700 payment to cover “other funeral expenses” has been capped since April 2003, whilst the cost of funerals and particularly disbursements has continued to rise above the rate of inflation.

The Royal London report into funeral poverty, published today, says to help the funeral poor the Social Fund “should be index-linked to inflation, and adjusted to reflect current UK living costs”, echoing a campaign by the NAFD, which has held talks with Government officials to discuss this much needed reform.

Alan Slater, Chief Executive of the NAFD, said: “The cap of £700 for ‘other funeral expenses’ has not changed since 2003 and we have been running a long campaign to urge the Government to increase it by index linking it to inflation.

“The capped amount has to cover all other costs in connection with the funeral, including an officiant, which leaves funeral directors with little over £500 to cover their professional fees for arranging the funeral, provision of a hearse and other transport, a coffin, bearers and much more. In reality funeral directors’ costs average around £1,500 in 2014.

“That’s why there is this shortfall. The ‘other funeral expenses’ payment covers less than half the cost of even the most basic funeral.

“This shortfall increases every year yet 80 per cent of NAFD members have never declined a funeral, even when they have known that the family are not able to pay. They take on the risk of being left in debt, as the funeral will have taken place before they know if a Social Fund funeral payment will be granted.

“When we met the Minister of State Steve Webb earlier this year we urged him to consider index-linking, and although it would not solve the problem, but it would be a step towards the system becoming fairer.”

His comments come as the issue of funeral poverty is raised in Parliament by Emma Lewell-Buck MP, who is proposing new legislation under the Funeral Services Bill, which seeks to change the Government’s Social Fund Funeral Payments provision.

Mr Slater said: “The NAFD welcomes Emma Lewell-Buck’s Ten Minute Rule motion as it echoes many of the points that the NAFD has been making consistently to the Government for over ten years.

“Our funeral director members see at first-hand the issue of funeral poverty and the inadequacy of current Government arrangements.”

On the issue of the ‘Simple Funeral’ being proposed in the Bill, the NAFD Code of Practice sets out the guidelines by which members must care for their clients. A new version was introduced in October 2014 which excluded a previous requirement to provide a Simple Funeral.  This was due to the feedback that the NAFD received from members that the bereaved could misconceive it to be a “basic” option.  It also didn’t reflect changing trends in what the bereaved now request at funerals, including many different types of coffin, donations and other aspects of a funeral.

Mr Slater said: “This makes it increasingly difficult to create a basic package which reflects the sheer variety of choice which now exists.

“Our members are increasingly offering a menu of choices – including a range of options which achieve low overall costs.  They are also required to provide both an itemised price list and a written estimate to allow families to select those elements that are right for them and within their budget. We believe this to be the fairest and most straightforward option for both bereaved families and the thousands of small, often family-run, funeral firms that we represent.”

Simon Cox, who leads Royal London’s campaign against funeral poverty, said: “Our study reveals how many people in the UK suffer from funeral poverty, but it’s also highlighted how the situation will worsen. The outdated Social Fund Funeral Payment system is a key factor and needs a full and fundamental review, but to ease things in the short term we support the call from the funeral industry to remove the partial cap and instead fully index-link this state benefit which as a consequence has been reducing in real terms for more than a decade, and directly contributing to a rise in funeral poverty.”

The National Association of Funeral Directors represents almost 3,900 funeral homes across the country.