Funeral expense assistance

words: Jeane Freeman MSP, Minister for Social Security

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill will give the Scottish Government the powers to deliver 11 social security benefits worth about £2.8 billion, which will be transferred from Westminster, along with powers to create new Scottish benefits.

This will allow the Scottish Government to establish a new social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect. This service will operate alongside the remaining reserved UK Government system.

The Scottish Government is introducing Funeral Expense Assistance, which will replace the current DWP Funeral Expenses Payment in Scotland.

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman has been speaking to us ahead of the changes that are expected to be introduced by summer 2019.

Q. How will Funeral Expense Assistance be different to the DWP Funeral Payment?

Planning a funeral can be a difficult and distressing time, and we aim to make funeral assistance more straightforward and easier to understand.

We will invest an extra £3 million per year to widen eligibility for Funeral Expense Assistance so that more people can receive support with the cost of a funeral. We estimate that an additional 2,000 people each year who would not currently receive support will do in the future as a result of these changes.

Q. What about increasing the cap on payments?

There isn’t a cap on the overall amount of a Funeral Expense Assistance payment. The part of the payment that relates to burial or cremation costs isn’t capped, and it’s important people know we’re not proposing to introduce a limit for that.

In terms of the part of the payment that is capped at £700 just now, we’ve had to make choices about how to improve the payment, given the wide range of concerns that we have heard. We believe that the best use of this additional Scottish Government investment is to widen the support available to more people who need it, instead of increasing the capped part of the payment at this time.

I will, of course, keep the payment level under review. I have also submitted an amendment on assistance levels to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill for consideration during Stage 2 proceedings, which sets out an annual duty on ministers to review the value of assistance of all benefits, having regard to the impact of inflation.

Q. Is Funeral Expense Assistance eligibility based on the residency of the person who has died or the person responsible for the funeral costs?

The person applying for Funeral Expense Assistance will need to be resident in Scotland, but the person who has died can have been resident anywhere in the UK.

This means bereaved families applying for a payment could be making arrangements with funeral directors who are not based in Scotland. For that reason it is important for funeral directors across the whole of the UK to understand how Funeral Expense Assistance works.

Q. What are you doing to increase take up of the benefit and how can the funeral profession play its part in that?

We have already undertaken a range of activity to increase uptake of social security, by encouraging people to exercise their rights and claim the benefits that they are entitled to.

We will continue to work with partners who have experience in benefit take-up to learn every lesson we can about what works. This includes organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland and local authorities. We aim to reach far and wide to provide people with information on how they can claim what they are entitled to.

In October last year, we worked with Age Scotland in a targeted campaign aimed at over-65s. This covered a range of social security benefit take up measures applicable to that age group. This included advertising on television, national press and bus interiors. We encouraged people to get in touch with Citizens Advice Scotland to find out what they may be entitled to.

Of course, as funeral directors are often one of the first points of contact for a bereaved family as they begin to arrange a funeral, we want to make sure that we explain to funeral directors how the new benefit works and want to work with the NAFD and SAIF to see the best way to do this.

Q. You mentioned funeral poverty work more generally; what else is the Scottish Government doing to help tackle funeral poverty?

We recognise that a joint approach needs to be taken to combating funeral poverty; that no single action, organisation, group or individual can address this issue alone. We look forward to further developing our positive working relationship with the NAFD and SAIF in pursuit of this goal.

The Scottish Government’s Funeral Costs Plan sets out 10 actions that we will take to tackle funeral poverty, working with others wherever we can. If any of your readers haven’t seen the plan, it’s available on the Scottish Government website.

The Scottish Government has also published a leaflet to help people plan for their funeral. This is also available here.

Q. Are you looking at making any further changes to Funeral Expense Assistance compared to the current Funeral Payment?

Yes. We have listened to concerns about the impact of long processing times. We will process applications within 10 working days of receipt of a completed application and make payment as soon as possible thereafter. We will continue to work with organisations and individuals with experience of the current system as we develop Funeral Expense Assistance to improve the parts of the process that people find difficult just now.

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