The National Association of Funeral Directors has welcomed a report into funeral poverty which recommends that the Government increases the Social Fund payment and also calls for local authorities to be legally required to justify large burial and cremation price increases.
The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government and published by Citizens Advice Scotland (3 February 2016), recommends that ministers in Scotland put pressure on the Government to increase Social Fund payments to ensure they cover the cost of a basic funeral, which averages at £2,300.
It also calls for Scottish Ministers to amend the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill, which is currently passing through the Scottish Parliament, to “require local authorities to justify any increases in burial/cremation charges” beyond the Consumer Price Index.
Paul Cuthell, a funeral director in Central Scotland and spokesman for the NAFD, said: “This report supports much of the work being carried out by the NAFD on supporting bereaved families by increasing the Social Find payment, and also in putting pressure on local authorities to justify often large increases in costs for little apparent reason other than to raise money.
“We work closely with Ministers both at Holyrood and Westminster around many issues related to end of life and we encourage discussion between the two with a view of addressing the inequalities surrounding the Social Fund that the NAFD has been campaigning on and that this report also rightly highlights.
“Bereaved families deserve to be able to hold a funeral without the added burden of stress of worrying about how to pay for it, and it is important to recognise that the vast majority of Funeral Directors in this country are small businesses and are forced to absorb the debts of those who cannot afford to pay, which can have a significant effect.
“Local authorities too must play their part in asking themselves why they are increasing costs related to end of life so sharply and whether those increases are necessary.”
He added: “We hope this report puts greater pressure on the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood, and local authorities across the UK to be fairer to bereaved families and the funeral firms which care for them.”
The report raises a number of recommendations that the Association supports, including calls for consumers to think hard about the suitability of funeral plans or insurance to cover the funeral they want.
“People plan for a wedding, a major birthday or other major event in life,” Mr Cuthell said. “Like those, with the increase in the variety of what is on offer in relation to a funeral comes a responsibility of cost, and it is important that people are mindful of that.
“An important part of this, as the report rightly highlights, is people feeling able to talk about their funeral and what they want, and to assist them they can download the My Funeral Wishes form from the NAFD website, which the Association created in conjunction with the Dying Matters coalition, helps them plan what sort of service they wish.”
The Association also backs calls in the report for greater and earlier access to funeral choice information via the NHS through the creation of bereavement coordinator.
The NAFD, which believes that licensing is costly and will add an extra financial burden onto families, is working hard with the Scottish Government to find a way forward on regulation of Funeral Directors.
However while the Association believes it is necessary, it believes that its existing Code of Practice and Code of Professional Standards, which are supported by an independent arbitration scheme for families who are unhappy about the service they have received, are robust and suitable and has asked Ministers to consider adopting them for the industry as a whole.
Currently the Social Fund payment covers the cost of a burial or cremation and makes a further £700 maximum available for “other funeral expenses”, which covers essentials such as a coffin, memorial and the services of a funeral director.
The average cost of a funeral in the UK is approximately £3,500, while the average funeral directors’ cost within that is £2,334.
Last month the NAFD gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Bereavement Benefits, highlighting five key points that minster should take to provide a fairer and more effective system to help the bereaved. They were index-linking the payment, pre-eligibility checks and claims tracking, shorter application form, improved signposting and support and for the Government to begin data gathering on funerals.
Bereaved families have also seen costs increase sharply by local authorities increasing the cost of burial plots, many of which have risen far beyond inflation. Burial fees cost £1,645, on average, in the UK, and £1,273 in Scotland.
Funeral poverty is defined by the Association as where an individual is faced with an inability to pay their household bills and other essential costs having paid for a funeral, rather than the more common suggestion that it is an inability to pay for a funeral.