Politics across the UK

New bereavement payment

Northern Ireland launched its new bereavement payment this month, and the Department of Communities has published a factsheet explaining the change.

Up until 6 April, three benefits existed to help bereaved people – Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance. These have all been replaced by the new Bereavement Support Payment for new claimants, although those already receiving the previous forms of benefit will not be affected by the change.

The factsheet summarises the new payment’s key features and claims process.

Key features

• Up to 18 months of payments are available – “an initial larger payment followed by a series of smaller monthly payments”
• Contributions affect the payment – “the deceased must have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions in any one tax year during their working life”
• Eligibility includes anyone of working age up to state pension age, with the age of the claimant not affecting the amount awarded
• The new payment will not be taken into account when calculating other contributory or means-tested benefits.

Further key features are available on the factsheet.

Claims and payments

• If the bereaved person has any dependent children, the initial payment will be £3,500, “up to 18 monthly payments of £350”
• If there are no dependent children, the payment is £2,500 then up to 18 payments of £100
• The new payments can be claimed through an online form or by calling 0800 085 2463.

The factsheet can be found here.

For more information, the sheet refers people here.

Call for further bereavement support

Westminster debated bereavement support last month, with Labour MPs calling for an increase to the £700 social fund funeral payment.

Frank Field MP – Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, which led an inquiry into bereavement benefits last year – noted these payments did not even cover the average cost councils paid for “pauper funerals”.

The Government’s response suggested that there would be no increase from the £700 figure, with Conservative MP Richard Harrington noting that “interest-free social fund budgeting loans for funeral costs” were available on top of the payments.

Answering on behalf of the Government, he also suggested that funeral directors might “inflate” their prices in response to any increase.

He said: “We do not want the funeral expenses scheme to influence or inflate the prices charged by the funeral industry for a simple funeral, and it must not undermine personal and family responsibility for meeting funeral costs.”

In closing the debate, Labour’s Frank Field MP – Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, which led an inquiry into bereavement benefits last year – warned that the Government would “present [a] harsh face to the public” if it refused to increase the amount paid when it had “up to £100 million to spend in this area”.

He added: “We are not asking the Minister to conjure up new money or to take money away from somewhere else. We are just saying that we agree. By all means, let us modernise this benefit, but let us do it in a way that spends the full budget and in a way that meets need most.”

Wales puts end to child burial fees

Child burial fees are to be ended in Wales, Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones announced at the party’s conference, following the “tenacious and dignified campaign” by Carolyn Harris MP.

The Welsh Government has set aside up to £1m per year to cover costs associated with burying a child. Various councils had already taken the decision to scrap the costs locally.

Mr Jones said: “Today, I am pleased to confirm that the Welsh Labour Government will step in and make sure that burial charges for children will no longer apply in Welsh communities.”

Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, has been campaigning to end the fees. Her own child died in a road accident almost 30 years ago, and she had to take out a loan to cover his funeral costs.

She told Wales Online: “This is a campaign which has always been on my mind, but I’ve never before been in a position to do anything about it. I had to think long and hard about starting it up, because it has been really painful for me. I’ve had to revisit my grief.

“I’ve felt like I’ve re-grieved for my son, but at least now he has a legacy, and no other parent in Wales who goes through the tragedy of losing a child will have to worry about funeral costs.

“I now want us to take this fight to Westminster, so that it is a policy adopted across the UK. I am so proud of the Welsh Labour Party for this.”

Scotland encourages claimants

The Scottish Government has called for people to claim more of the benefits they are entitled to, including Funeral Payments and Pension Credit.

A week-long campaign on radio and in the press last month highlighted the benefits available to people, after figures showed that more than 500,000 Scottish people and families may not be claiming the tax credits or income-related benefits to which they are entitled.

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said: “Claiming the benefits that people are entitled to will help maximise family incomes and can reduce poverty levels. For example, around a third of pensioners are entitled to Pension Credit but do not claim it. We want to help people to know what financial support is available that could make a difference to their lives.

“We also know that personal circumstances can change very quickly – whether it’s losing a job, a family bereavement, becoming a carer for a family member, or having a child.

“The evidence tells us that often many of us don’t realise that changes in our lives can mean we are entitled to additional support and that there is a range of benefits all of us are entitled to know about.

“Many of us will need that financial support at some point in our lives, whether we’re in work or not. So we all have a stake in ensuring everyone is looked after properly and the social security system exists to help and support those who need it, when they need it.”

According to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions and HMRC, across the UK in 2014-15 around 38% of people entitled to Pension Credit did not take it up. That means an estimated 130,000 Scottish pensioners may be eligible for funds they are not receiving.

Age Scotland Chief Executive Keith Robson said: “It is so important that the Scottish Government is taking action to encourage people to get the help they’re entitled to. It is vital people recognise the system is there for anybody who needs it, and that this is support to which people are entitled.

“Every year, we ensure older people claim hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefit payments they would otherwise not have received, and the charity provides information and advice on benefits specifically for older people. One recent caller to our helpline found she was eligible for more than £7,000 a year in benefits.”

Citizens Advice Scotland has created a Freephone benefits helpline (0800 085 7145) and a webpage alongside the campaign, which supplies details about benefits, their eligibility requirements, and how they can be accessed.

The site can be found here.

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