The National Association of Funeral Directors has today welcomed the Government’s response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on Bereavement Benefits and remains committed to working with Government to reform the Social Fund Funeral Payment.

The Social Fund Funeral Payment is there to support the 10% of bereaved people for whom any unexpected expenditure is simply beyond their means. Having fought for so long for this outdated benefit to be reviewed it is encouraging to hear that the Government intends to put time and resource into developing a fairer and more equitable system for both bereaved people and the funeral directors who support them.

The NAFD has also sounded a note of caution on Government plans to press ahead with plans to create a standard funeral benefits package.

The Government is right to point out that there are inherent difficulties in creating a one-farewell-fits-all ‘standard funeral package’ and that people need to have more freedom of choice. Recent research by YouGov for the NAFD and Cruse Bereavement Care identified that by far the most important priorities for Britons when it comes to organising a funeral are following the wishes of and making it special to the person that has died and making sure everyone that wants to be there can attend. Cost was found to be the seventh most important priority for Britons, backing up the Government’s finding that, actually, people don’t necessarily want a basic funeral for their loved one – they want to give them what they consider to be a ‘good send-off’.

Indeed, given the Government’s own recognition of the importance of choice we are surprised that it goes on, in its response, to reaffirm its intention to work with the NAFD and others to define and cost a ‘reasonable’ simple funeral package.  The NAFD would be very concerned by any suggestion that funeral prices should be fixed on a national basis as this is simply not workable in practical terms. As with many other services, the cost of a funeral varies for a whole variety of reasons across the UK and this must be taken into consideration. Equally, a ‘one-farewell-fits-all’ approach would be based around the typical funeral of the majority of claimants and therefore is unlikely to adequately provide for those with other beliefs or needs.

The NAFD would prefer instead to look at the underlying principles behind what can be offered by Government to support those, in genuine poverty, who find themselves needing to arrange a funeral for a loved one. We are pleased to be meeting with the Pensions Minister in July to develop this thinking further and remain committed to working with Government on this and wider challenges relating to the end of life.

Key to these challenges in the fact that the majority of Britons simply do not put plans in place for their own funeral – despite its inevitability – which leaves a financial, practical and emotional burden to be borne by family and friends, the State and increasingly by funeral directors too.