Funeral costs guidance consultation

words: Aileen Campbell, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government

Anyone who has lost a loved one will know the range of emotions associated with that loss. One thing that no one should have to factor into the grieving process is additional worry over the cost of the funeral. Yet for many families in Scotland that is an additional burden they find themselves bearing.

It was because of the very real issue of the costs of funerals that, last year, my predecessor Angela Constance developed and launched the Scottish Government’s Funeral Costs Plan, setting out 10 actions that the Scottish Government will take across a range of areas to help tackle this issue.

That plan built upon three roundtable stakeholder engagement events and a National Conference on funeral poverty which involved the funeral industry, local authorities, third sector organisations and others. And among the series of actions in that Plan is for the Scottish Government to produce guidance on funeral costs.

In August I launched a public consultation on that draft guidance. It sets out the measures that we believe local authorities, private burial and cremation providers and funeral directors can take to help grieving families understand both the range of options available to them when arranging a funeral as well as the wide variance in costs. The guidance could also help people who want to plan and save for their funeral in advance to understand the associated costs.

The themes covered by the consultation paper are:

  • Use of language and terminology
  • Display of pricing
  • Transparency of cremation charges
  • Definition of a simple funeral
  • Transparency of pricing at point of sale
  • Burial or cremation without using the services of a funeral director
  • Understanding local authority charges
  • Local authority measures to reduce funeral poverty

I am clear that that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling the costs of funerals and affordability, which is why our consultation refers to a number of lower-cost funeral options and asks for views about what should be included in a simple funeral.

To prepare the draft guidance, we involved funeral directors (including representatives from the NAFD and SAIF), private crematoriums, COSLA, and councils to try to identify areas of consensus and also to explore areas where transparency and consumer choice might be improved. We have been greatly encouraged by the level of commitment from the funeral industry in working with us to develop the draft guidance.

We recognise that local authorities are responsible for setting their own charges and similarly, funeral directors and private crematoriums and cemeteries are responsible for establishing their own pricing and business models. The draft guidance focuses on improving the availability, transparency and consistency of information on funeral costs to help improve people’s ability to access information, compare prices and choose the funeral option that is right for them.

We need the views of the public and of course all stakeholders, including local authorities, private burial and cremation authorities – and funeral directors in particular – to ensure that the guidance will work.

I appreciate that there is a lot of government activity in relation to the funeral industry at present – at a Scottish and UK level. The Competition and Markets Authority recently announced a market study of the funeral services market that covers a number of similar issues as the funeral costs guidance, so we will take into account any available findings from the results of that as we further refine our guidance on funeral costs after our consultation ends.

This is an area we want to tackle as we recognise there is a real problem for many people in their ability to afford funerals. When a family or an individual has to organise a funeral, it comes at a time of grief, stress and anxiety which makes it all the more important to ensure the language used and the transparency of options and costs is right. This draft guidance needs to work for everyone, providers and the public alike – that is why we are keen to engage and understand the range of views and opinions about this important work.

Ultimately we want a suite of guidance that people will be able to embrace and implement effectively, informed by a range of views and taking into account available knowledge and information. The consultation process is a crucial part of ensuring that happens – so I would ask people to get involved, let us know your views and help shape the final guidance.

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