Funeral Support Payment: evaluation - qualitative research

Qualitative research supporting the findings from the evaluation of the Funeral Support Payment.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 3: Application process

Main findings

Clients were broadly positive about their experiences applying for FSP. However, third sector organisations identified the eligibility criteria as a barrier to people accessing FSP, resulting in what they considered to be key groups missing out.

The process of applying was generally considered to be straightforward, with some exceptional cases where clients felt judged or challenged.

The main issue raised about the application process was the timeframe. Clients were typically awaiting the outcome of their applications while having to proceed with their funeral arrangements, sometimes feeling pressure to cover the funeral costs before knowing if they would receive FSP and how much would be awarded. In cases where there were delays to the process, this could cause additional distress to clients.

This chapter summarises the experiences of clients applying for FSP and seeks to address the following research objectives:

  • Clients' experiences of the application process, identifying any barriers applying for, or receiving, FSP.
  • Views and experiences regarding eligibility and timely payment from Social Security Scotland.
  • Whether the application and decision-making process allows funerals to be arranged within a reasonable timeframe.

The chapter explores the positive and negative aspects of the process described by applicants at each stage of the process, and suggests ways in which it could be improved. Relevant insights are drawn from funeral directors and third sector organisations who had experience of supporting customers through the application.

The decision to apply and eligibility

Clients tended to apply for FSP because they had need for financial support to arrange a funeral and had been advised they would be eligible for such support.

As the group of FSP clients we spoke to were successful applicants, there was limited evidence gathered on any issues with, or barriers to, successfully applying for the payment. Insights around the barriers to applying for FSP were therefore mainly offered by third sector organisations, given their proximity to a wider pool of individuals they felt were in need of this type of support.

The third sector perspective was that the FSP eligibility criteria acted as a barrier to some of those in need of financial support. Three groups were identified as being in particular need of support but, from the perspective of third sector organisations involved in this research, not always eligible for FSP. These groups were: students; those working but on low incomes; and pensioners. A representative described how those working but on low incomes, for example, are 'in a space where there is nothing for them from the Government, simply because they're over the threshold'.

Another aspect of the eligibility issue discussed by third sector organisations was the perceived lack of consideration for complex family dynamics. They gave examples of people having received FSP due to a qualifying benefit despite having other sources of financial support from family members[7] to cover the cost of a funeral, while others (such as students, low income families and pensioners who third sector organisations believe are in need of support but are not on a qualifying benefit) have not. While it was acknowledged that setting eligibility criteria is a complex task, third sector representatives felt strongly that the current system is lacking in fairness and flexibility, resulting in people in certain groups being overlooked.

"There are many people who are not on a qualifying benefit who are much worse off than some people who are. I'm not up for degrees of poverty but there are people who are footing the bill for the whole funeral as a result of not qualifying."

Third sector organisation

Making the application

Applications for FSP were typically made at some point between the death and the funeral. However, there were occasions where clients had applied later because they were not aware of the support available until after the funeral.

FSP applications can be made either online or by telephone and both modes had been used by FSP clients. Those applying online recalled receiving a call afterwards from Social Security Scotland to clarify some details. One client, who experienced multiple deaths, made their first application online and their second one over the phone, in anticipation of these clarification questions, with a view to speeding up the process.

There were examples of clients needing help from family members to complete their application online, for example due to: English not being their first language; a lack of digital confidence to complete the application online; or having learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

"My English [not first language] …. So a little hard, I needed to read it more than one time."

FSP client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

Third sector organisations and funeral directors also described how they would provide support to clients with their application, such as by advising on the evidence they would need to supply, or by going through the applications with them.

It is important to note that clients often found it difficult to recall details about the application process as it took place during the early stages of grief. However, they were generally positive about their experience, whether online or by phone. The process was considered to be straightforward, and was described as 'easy', 'quick', and 'simple'. Telephone operators were described as 'helpful' and 'sympathetic'.

"It was fairly straightforward [….] it was easy enough, especially in the circumstances when you're on the floor."

FSP client, 35-54, West Dunbartonshire

"The girl we dealt with was very, very helpful and I must give credit to her. She made things very simple. No awkwardness about it. No awkward questions."

FSP client, 55+, Na h-Eileanan Siar

A less typical view of the application process, however, was that it was 'not straightforward'. Experiences of feeling judged, challenged, or that attempts were being made to 'catch them out' were mentioned.

"The tone of the person's voice made me feel like I was begging. It wasn't helpful at all, question after question […] I felt like I was begging and I didn't want to feel like that."

FSP client, 35-54, Edinburgh

Funeral directors who go through the application with their clients echoed the general feeling that the process was straightforward. Those with experience of the previous UK Government grant felt the FSP application was simpler and easier to understand.

"It's very easy to go through the application process with the family, especially when you compare that to when it was done by [UK] Government, the system was a lot more intense and you had to fill out a very large form, and it'd take a good 45 mins to go through the paperwork."

Funeral director, smaller business, Aberdeenshire

From the third sector perspective, the ease and simplicity of the application process was considered to be a fundamental component of FSP, as clients are applying at a difficult time. A third sector participant, based on their own experience supporting clients through the application process, felt the telephone option was particularly beneficial because it gave clients reassurance about the next steps and clarity on the paperwork needed from them.

"It's gathering that sort of paperwork when your head is all over the place. It's a process and it has to be done. The feedback is that it is straightforward."

Third sector organisation

Third sector organisations also raised challenges with the application process, however. One representative felt strongly that the equalities questionnaire included in the application put undue pressure on applicants at a vulnerable time, making them feel their application is 'conditional' on their responses to these questions.

It is also worth noting that third sector organisations highlighted the impact that COVID-19 has had on their ability to support people through the application. They described how remote communications had made it more difficult for them to guide applicants through the process and provide emotional support during the early stages of bereavement and funeral planning.

"It was really hard for us to support clients when we were limited in our ability to be in the same space as someone […]. That was a significant challenge because we knew the person we were supporting would have found that really difficult to do that themselves and had no support around them."

Third sector organisation

After the application is submitted

Typically, any issues with the application tended to arise after the application was submitted. Those who applied online, for example, experienced a lack of communication after their initial application. It was noted that they did not get an email or reference number to confirm their application had been received resulting in some doubt as to whether it had gone through successfully.

Timeframes for receiving the payment ranged from approximately two days to six weeks after application; clients typically recalled the process taking around two to three working days but there were reports of the application taking much longer. In these more exceptional cases, clients recalled waiting between four to six weeks for the payment, having to follow it up themselves to discover the issue, and not knowing whether or not their application would be successful. The causes of delays were not always known to clients, but there were instances where they were required to re-upload evidence or repeat information. One client felt under pressure from the funeral director to cover the costs before the payment had come through, and without knowing what the amount would be. Such delays can cause additional stress at an already difficult time for people who are bereaved and clients affected by a delay described the experience as 'upsetting', 'annoying' and a 'struggle'.

"It took 25 days before somebody called me back and asked for all the information again. After that it was paid within five days. It should be quicker. I struggled with how I was going to pay."

FSP client, 55+, West Dunbartonshire

Even when there were no delays and payment was made quickly after the decision had been made (typically between two and five working days), the funeral had usually taken place by the time payment was received. The time spent waiting for an outcome was described as particularly difficult and worrisome, and led to financial strain when clients had to cover funeral costs before FSP was received (explored further in Chapters 5 and 6). There was no evidence that clients had to delay the funeral as a result of the application timeframe and for some, such as those organising Muslim funerals where the body has to buried within a fixed timeframe, this was not a possibility. Not having the money prior to the funeral could result in clients having to borrow money to cover the funeral costs.

"Not knowing how long it would take was the hardest part, you have to bury within 3 days, so I borrowed money."

FSP client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

Third sector organisations raised concerns for both the funeral director's business security and the client's wellbeing while awaiting the outcome of their application. There was acknowledgement that the speed of decision-making had improved under the FSP system but that it remains an issue for those having to make funeral arrangements while under financial pressure.

"The challenge for the family and for the funeral director is whether or not this is going to pay out. While their loved one is lying in the morgue, and [they're] waiting to hear the outcome of the decision, [it's] harrowing and horrendous. That quicker decision making has improved somewhat but I don't think it's enough yet."

Third sector organisation

One view from the third sector perspective was that the release of some money sooner to allow clients to pay funeral director deposits would ease the financial strain that people experience at the early stages of funeral planning. For clients, at least knowing in advance how much would be received, and when it would be received, would help with planning.

"It would have been much easier if I had known how much and when I would get it. I could have done it quicker and been more relaxed and felt more secure and I could have invited more relatives to come."

FSP client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

FSP clients did not report issues receiving the payment once the outcome of their application was known. There was a mix of those who chose to receive the money directly and those who opted for it to go directly to the funeral director. Views on this are explored in more detail in Chapter 4.



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