Funeral benefit rises after 16 year freeze

Expenses uplift

Struggling bereaved families across England and Wales are to benefit from enhanced financial support, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced an uplift in the value of Funeral Expense Assistance from £700 to £1,000 – a 43% increase. Expected to commence in spring 2020, the uplift will be the first since 2003.

Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince said the additional £300 would help families “pay for the personal touches” and allow them to “say goodbye properly”.

Funeral Expense Assistance covers burial and cremation fees in full, with no cap on contributions. However, unlike burial and cremation fees, funeral director fees are not a statutory cost covered by the benefit. The ‘other expenses’ element is a discretionary fund, from which the recipient must cover a number of costs, including church fees, flowers, and the cost of purchasing a coffin, as well as funeral director fees.

The National SAIF President Jim Auld said: “Across the UK, poverty is forcing the hand of families, stripping them of choice and, often, a sense of dignity. The funeral profession has been calling on the Government to act for some time and I welcome the DWP’s announcement.

“When introduced in 2003, the purchasing power of the £700 ‘other expenses’ element of Funeral Expense Assistance was £1,087 in today’s prices. Over that period, while funeral costs have risen, the cap on the ‘other expenses’ payments represents a 35% real-terms loss in value to struggling bereaved families.

“It is my hope that the enhanced financial support will offer a vital lifeline to those families in greatest need and allow them to provide their loved ones with a dignified, respectful send-off.”

However, with the devolution of funeral benefit to Holyrood this summer, grieving Scots will not be eligible for the higher payments. Similarly, under Stormont’s devolution rules, claimants in Northern Ireland will be ineligible for the higher rate until the Northern Ireland Executive, in dissolution since January 2017, approves the benefit uprating.

In June 2018, the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee invited the President of Scottish SAIF, Paul Stevenson, to give evidence on the Scottish Government’s proposals for the devolution of funeral benefit. In his submission, Mr Stevenson called on the Scottish Government to increase the value of the ‘other expenses’ payment to £1,500.

Reiterating his call for the Scottish Government to take action, Paul Stevenson said: “The devolution of funeral benefit from Westminster to Holyrood presented the Scottish Government with a unique opportunity to do things differently. The funeral sector has welcomed the positive work undertaken to date – on increasing eligibility, simplifying the application process and introducing an inflationary link.

“However, after 13 years of declining value, if we are serious about tackling funeral poverty then the Scottish Government must restore the value of funeral benefit through an above-inflation uplift in value.

“SAIF Scotland stands ready to work with the Scottish Government to make sure that bereaved Scottish families are not left comparatively worse off than those in England and Wales.”

The DWP says it receives almost 42,000 claims for funeral benefit each year – around 800 each week. Applicants in receipt of Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Pension Credit, Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance are eligible to claim for funeral benefit.

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