The government have announced plans to make their funeral fund simpler and fairer. The fund is available to some people who would otherwise been unable to afford a funeral. We support bereaved people on low incomes through our Down to Earth service, many of whom have been let down by the funeral fund.
Sadly, the plans laid out by the Government won’t get tackle the fact that many people who need financial help don’t get it. Neither do they plan to increase the fund, which was capped in 2003 and now only pays for around 40% of a funeral.
But it’s great news that Government are finally taking action for bereaved people who can’t afford a funeral. Research shows that one in seven of us would seriously struggle to afford a funeral if someone close to us died. After years of ignoring the problem, the UK Government have recognised that the system is broken and needs to change. This is thanks to the organisations that have been campaigning hard, and the people standing up and bravely telling their personal stories.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are consulting on their plans to improve the funeral fund. They especially want to hear from people who have personal or professional experience of the fund. The deadline for responses is Monday 21st August.
Some of the changes being proposed by the Government
Contributions from charities, friends and relatives
Often when someone dies, friends and family will offer contributions to help pay for the funeral. If you apply to the funeral fund, any contributions you receive will be deducted, pound for pound. This is especially unfair when you consider the fund only pays for 40% of a funeral. The Government plan to change these rules, and let people keep contributions without them being deducted.
A spokesperson from the Government said:
“We recognise that the total cost of a funeral is often larger than the value of a Funeral Payment, and contributions from others can help recipients to meet the costs of the funeral.”
We’re really pleased the Government are finally acknowledging that their fund falls well short of the cost of a funeral. At Fair Funerals, we’ve spent years encouraging the Government to be more upfront, so people have realistic expectations about what they can hope to receive.
Exceptions for people living in care homes
If you have another relative who isn’t receiving a qualifying benefit from the DWP, you won’t be eligible for the funeral grant. This includes where this other relative might be disabled, unwell or living in a care home. The Government are proposing to make people living in care homes except, so if you have a relative living here, your claim wouldn’t be rejected for this reason.
We welcome the Government’s recognition that unwell or incapacitated relatives are probably not in a position to pay for a funeral. But we hope this exemption will be extended to include anyone who is disabled, unwell or incapacitated. It’s not reasonable to expect people in these circumstances to take on paying for a funeral.
Extending the claim period from 3 to 6 months
Currently, you must submit your application for a funeral fund within 3 months of the date of the funeral, otherwise your claim will be rejected. We’ve supported numerous people where the DWP has lost forms, paperwork or information. By the time this comes to light, the three month window for making an application has closed, and they’re left with nothing. The Government are proposing to extend this window for making an application to six months.
Shorter application forms for children’s funerals
The Government propose launching a shorter application form for a child’s funeral. This is to reduce stress on the bereaved family, and recognises that making an application is a long and complex process.
Electronic submission of evidence
At the moment, funeral directors aren't allowed to submit funeral invoices for their applications electronically. A final invoice is needed before a claim can be processed, so this slows the whole process down considerably. In our experience people have to wait on average four weeks before the hear whether their claim has been accepted. The Government propose that funeral directors and others should be able to submit information electronically. This is a step in the right direction, and an acknowledgement that expecting people to wait four weeks before they know if they'll get any help towards funeral costs is unacceptable. But we'd like to know what the Government's target is for turning around applications. In Scotland, where the funeral fund has been devolved to the Scottish Government, a commitment has been made that claims will be processed in ten days. We'd like to see the UK Government follow suit.
Fair Funerals will be responding to the consultation, based on the experiences of people we support making applications to the funerals fund. If you have experience of the fund, we encourage you to do the same.