191 A further issue which requires to be considered in Scotland is funeral poverty. The Scottish Government believes that funerals are a vital public service and that no-one should be prevented a dignified funeral because of cost. Similarly, no-one should be forced into debt by the cost of organising a funeral for their loved one. Recent research by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) suggests that basic funeral costs in the UK have risen on average by 7% each year since 2004. In Scotland, the average basic cost of a burial (ie, funeral director's costs; burial lair and interment fee; and minister/celebrant/officiant fee) is £3,240. The average basic cost of a cremation is £2,610. These basic costs do not include items such as flowers, a wake and a memorial, which can add an average additional cost of £1815. When such items are included, the average cost of a burial in Scotland is £5055 and the average cost of a cremation in Scotland is £4425.
192 While this is the average cost, funeral costs vary significantly across Scotland. CAS research found that local authority burial costs (the combined cost of interment and the lair) range from £680 to £2,716.50. The average cost of a local authority burial in Scotland is £1,181.77, against the UK average of £1,500. Local authority cremation costs range from £485 to £730, with the average being £569.50. Private cremations cost between £585 to £830.
193 CAS research suggests that some local authorities are increasing funeral costs to reduce overall budget pressures, rather than charging on a cost-recovery basis. Funeral costs are not consistently published on local authority websites (CAS found that some local authorities did not publish this information at all), making it difficult to know in advance how much a funeral might costs, and how much each individual element will cost.
194 There are few financial support mechanisms available to those who are struggling to afford the cost of a funeral. The UK Department of Work and Pensions operates a social fund which provides a financial contribution to funeral costs for those on low incomes. There is a range of qualifying conditions for access to the fund, and any money provided must be paid back, often from the deceased person's estate - this can add additional financial burdens to people who are already struggling to afford the cost of a funeral. Research by the University of Bath found that during 2012-13 only 53% of 66,000 applications to the fund were successful, with an average payment of £1,225, significantly below the average basic funeral costs in Scotland. Grants made from the fund can be used only for particular elements of the funeral cost. Applicants to the fund are required to provide details of the funeral plan, meaning that they must agree to particular funeral costs without necessarily having the means to pay for them. The Smith Commission report on the further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament proposes that responsibility for funeral payments, currently part of the regulated Social Fund operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.
195 In response to these pressures, it is proposed to impose a legislative duty on Local Authorities to publish up-to-date burial and cremation costs on their websites in a clear and easily accessible way. Another option which may help to reduce funeral poverty is to require Local Authorities to charge on a cost-recovery basis. If responsibility for the benefit currently paid from the DWP Social Fund is transferred to the Scottish Parliament, this will provide further options for tackling funeral poverty. This will be the subject of a separate consultation.
Q86 - Do you agree with the proposal that Local Authorities should have a legal duty to ensure that their up-to-date burial and cremation costs are published on their website in clear and accessible way?
Q87 - Should Local Authorities be required by law to charge funeral costs on a cost-recovery basis only?
Q88 - What else could be done to reduce funeral costs and ensure that they remain affordable for everyone?
Email: Joseph Ewesor
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