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 4: Use of FSP

Main findings

Participants described a range of different funeral arrangements and associated costs. There was a view that those living in rural or island communities are likely to have higher funeral costs (especially higher transport costs including ferries).

There was widespread uncertainty about what exactly FSP had covered, but recipients were typically aware of the general contribution FSP had made to their funeral costs, which ranged from around a fifth up to the entire cost of the funeral.

Among those who did not have the entire cost of the funeral covered, there was a feeling that FSP was not enough to be an effective contribution, given the high cost of even a basic funeral. This was echoed by funeral directors, although there was an acknowledgement that FSP will always be less than people would like.

FSP was not widely perceived to have influenced funeral choices, either because recipients were uncertain about how much they would receive, or other factors (such as the wishes of the deceased) were more important.

Awareness of simple burials or direct cremations was fairly low and views were mixed on the benefits of these options. There was some concern among third sector organisations and funeral directors that basic funerals may not always meet people's needs and must be promoted carefully.

Other influences on funeral choices included the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral plans and social norms. These were not major influences on funeral costs, although restrictions on numbers due to the pandemic could save catering costs.

An important factor in how recipients used FSP was whether they chose to have the money sent directly to them, or straight to their funeral director, and there were a range of views among recipients, funeral directors and stakeholders about this.

On the one hand, recipients who received FSP directly did this because it helped them better manage their money, avoid being in debt to a funeral director, or be compensated for a funeral that had already taken place. On the other hand, recipients who preferred to have FSP sent straight to their funeral directoror said this was less hassle, that there was less risk of them spending it on other things, and that it would be reassuring to funeral directors.

While there was an appreciation among third sector groups that empowering people to manage their money was a good thing, the issue of the payment not being passed on was acknowledged as a risk which could cause other issues, such as more debt or funerals being cancelled.

This chapter will explore how FSP has been spent, including its effectiveness as a contribution to funeral costs and its influence on funeral arrangments. It also considers other factors in participants' decision making including views on simple burials and direct cremations, the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral plans, and social or cultural norms. Finally, it considers experiences of the choice made by recipients to either receive the money personally or have it sent directly to a funeral director.

This chapter addresses the following research objectives:

  • How FSP has been spent, exploring: the types of goods and services purchased and the payment method chosen (i.e. to the client or funeral director)
  • Whether and how FSP helps people on low incomes provide a respectful funeral, exploring: the effectiveness of FSP as a contribution towards funeral costs and its impact on funeral arrangements and choices
  • The extent to which FSP has led to changes in client behaviour, exploring: decisions on funeral arrangements and whether FSP has enabled clients on low incomes to access funerals

This chapter is primarily based on data from interviews with FSP recipients, but includes views from funeral directors and third sector organisations where relevant.

Types of funeral and associated costs

Participants described a range of different funeral arrangements and associated costs. There was a mix of people who had arranged burials and those who chose cremations, there were both religious (including Catholic, Church of Scotland, Muslim and the Baha'i Faith) and non-religious services, and funerals ranged in size from no guests to many people attending (before the pandemic).

Something that all recipients had in common was the use of a funeral director, although among Muslim participants this was often somebody who was part of a Mosque and not an independent business. Funeral directors were an important factor in how easy or difficult participants found the process of arranging funerals, and often provided advice which influenced funeral decisions.

"Yes, oh, [the funeral director] made it so much easier. Actually, he made it so easy I didn't have to do anything."

FSP client, 55+, South Ayrshire

Funeral directors also described regularly advising clients, including informing them of the most cost-effective options.

"It's a cremation, why would you want a £1200 solid oak coffin when a veneered oak that looks exactly the same, will do the same job? […] we actively discourage people from grandiose purchases."

Funeral director, medium-sized business, West Lothian

Participants listed a range of costs they had to pay to arrange a funeral. The extent to which they were able to recall these accurately varied depending on their level of involvement in the practical aspects of arranging the funeral and the length of time that had passed. Participants' also felt their recollection of details was affected by the fact it was a stressful period in their lives. Commonly listed, however, were those costs directly related to cremations or burials, for example the cost of coffins, internment fees, burial layers, and retrieving ashes. There were costs for headstones and/or engraving these, which were sometimes yet to be paid.

Participants also mentioned paying for professional time, for example funeral directors, celebrants, grave diggers, and services related to storing and preparing the body, such as embalming.

Another cost was transport, with participants generally paying for the use of a hearse. There could be travel costs for family and friends to get to the funeral, although this was an area where some participants reduced costs by arranging this separately and avoiding expensive options such as limousines. There were also transport costs to move the deceased's body before the funeral, for example to and from a funeral director or morgue.

Transport costs were particularly high for those living in remote areas or on islands as they were more likely to have to travel to access services. One such participant explained that the nearest crematorium is over four hours away.

"We stay [on an island], and the nearest crematorium is [on the mainland], so we would need to go two hours on the ferry [and then] we have got a two-hour drive."

FSP client, 55+, Na h-Eileanan Siar

There were mixed experiences of arranging catering for funerals. Among those who arranged catering, this ranged from 'a few sandwiches' made at home to professional catering services. There were also participants who did not have any catering, either due to few/no in-person mourners, personal choice, or because it was not traditional in their community.

Other costs mentioned included death certificates, streaming funeral services online, and medical certificates or other medical costs or costs related to preparing the body before the funeral, such as removing a defibrillator.

Costs covered by FSP and effectiveness as contribution

As discussed in the previous chapter, there was uncertainty about what FSP had covered, or what it was supposed to cover. It was typically viewed as a general contribution towards costs instead of being for specific items but, when probed, there were participants who said they thought the payment went towards burial or cremation costs. Depending on the proportion of their total outlay covered by FSP, participants mentioned various costs that it had not covered: catering costs, transport, the coffin, flowers, a headstone engraving, and ritual washing of the body.

While detailed awareness of how FSP was allocated was relatively low, recipients were more aware of how much their funeral costs had been overall and the proportion of this that was covered by FSP. This ranged from around a fifth to covering all expenses. The proportion funded by FSP generally correlated with the overall cost of the funeral, for example one participant who had only a fifth of their costs covered had funeral costs that fell on the higher end of the spectrum.

Among those who did not have the entire cost of the funeral covered, there was a feeling that FSP needed to be higher in order to be an effective contribution. There was widespread agreement that even the most basic funerals were expensive, and participants who did not get all their costs covered typically did not feel that they had planned extravagant funerals that could easily have been scaled back.

"I wasn't going over the top, it was only what we could afford. It wasn't anything that was going to be mega money, I wasn't going to put myself into debt. It was just the basics […] it was quite dear even for the basic funeral."

FSP client, 55+, Dundee

A similar view was expressed among funeral directors, although there was an acknowledgement that there will always be a desire for FSP to cover more.

"We find that the people who are on the low incomes who when the FSP help pay for it, they tend not to go for elaborate expensive options, they are quite happy to have the cheapest coffin or to do things that can cut down on costs if necessary, things like that. You know, they tend not to go out all out."

Funeral director, smaller business, Aberdeenshire

"Compared to what we had before it is so much better. It is not enough money. It will never be enough money, you will never be able to allocate enough funds to do it right of what people would expect, but it is not that far away, it is achievable."

Funeral director, medium-sized business, West Lothian

While there were few differences between groups in terms of FSP contributions, there was an acknowledgement that FSP might cover a smaller proportion of costs for those living in remote areas, who are likely to encounter higher costs.

"People who die in remote rural places should potentially get slightly more because the costs are so much more, especially the Scottish islands. […] if you are dying in Mull, Tiree or Coll, Helensburgh is the nearest crematorium or Inverness, it is a long way away and the ferries are very limited, you know, the timetables you don't get a commutable service, you don't have a working day on the mainland, so you have to stay away, overnight, funeral director, two men, so it is very pricey. […] It's not the same deal as somebody in the city, yet it is the same payment."

Funeral director, smaller business, Argyll and Bute

Among third sector organisations, there was also some discussion of extra costs for people who were taller or heavier than average that are not accounted for in FSP.

John's experience of FSP

John is 63 and lives on the Isle of Skye. He lives alone, although his brother has moved nearby. He uses a wheelchair and has not been going out very much since the pandemic began.

John arranged a funeral in February 2021 for his mother. It was a burial and there was a church service, although the COVID-19 pandemic meant there was a limited amount of people who could attend. There was no reception afterwards because it's not 'the done thing' where he lives.

There weren't too many direct funeral costs, as there were few flowers and the plot (alongside John's father) had already been paid for. However, living in a rural area meant there were additional costs for travel and transporting things for the funeral.

"The only funeral service that would do it for us lives on a different island, so we had the hearse and a couple of cars, a car for myself and my son and daughter ferried over."

John's brother helped with a lot of the planning and recommended that John apply for FSP. John applied over the phone, as he finds it challenging to do things online, and found the FSP application easy and straightforward.

"To be honest, I'm 63 years of age, I have a laptop and I'm just getting into it. I'm still learning. I have an email address and I get messages from people but don't reply. I do my shopping online. A lot of things I can do online. But I'm still learning."

John arranged for FSP to go straight to the funeral director as he felt this was the easiest way to do it.

The main impact of FSP for John was financial, as it made paying for the funeral easier and less stressful. Although he thought he would have probably managed without, it probably helped his wellbeing not to have the financial burden of the entire funeral cost to deal with.

Influence of FSP on funeral choices

For a number of reasons, the prevailing view among recipients was that the payment had not significantly impacted their funeral choices, although there were exceptions to this.

As clients were typically in the process of planning the funeral while awaiting the decision on FSP, uncertainty around how much, if any, money they would receive was one reason for this.

"I didn't really count on getting [it], I kind of told myself to be prepared in case it is maybe only a few hundred pounds."

FSP client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

There was some evidence of this uncertainty affecting funeral choices. For example, one participant invited fewer relatives than she would have done had she known how much FSP she would receive, while another regretted not paying to live-stream the funeral.

"If I'd known how much I'd have got, I could have given her a better send off, could have had a password for people to see [the service] on their phones."

FSP client, 55+, Renfrewshire

There were also those who felt that, while FSP had helped to cover the cost of the basic funeral they had arranged, it had not been enough to fund any additional elements or different options. Furthermore, there were elements of the funeral that were considered important to include, regardless of their cost. This was usually based on the wishes of the deceased or religious or cultural traditions. Funeral directors had encountered similar situations and acknowledged that other factors were sometimes more influential in funeral choices.

"No, I don't think [having FSP makes a difference to customer choices]. I think they are still looking at the basics, I don't think they are looking at any more than that."

Funeral director, smaller business, Argyll and Bute

"I had asked some of our colleagues [if FSP impacts funeral choices] and the general consensus is probably not. […] [Choices are led by] either what the deceased person wanted or what the family wants."

Funeral director, medium-sized business, West Lothian

There was also no evidence from funeral directors that FSP recipients were treated differently to other clients or encouraged to make certain choices due to being eligible for the payment.

"I treat it as a normal funeral, there is no difference whatsoever. So, I don't make any difference, so the family just feel that they are getting the same service exactly."

Funeral director, smaller business, Argyll and Bute

More exceptionally, there were recipients who felt they could increase their budget because of FSP. One participant said it allowed her to plan a better funeral for her husband, as she didn't have to go for all the cheapest options and was able to give him a 'proper send-off'. One recipient explained that FSP allowed her to opt for a burial instead of a cremation (which was a cheaper option).

"[FSP] made a big difference, once I found out, if not I'd maybe have had to go for the budget option […] it looked nicer, looked as if he had a proper send-off rather than a pauper's."[8]

FSP client, 55+, South Ayrshire

"We got almost the entire cost apart from £600, which was an absolute blessing, because we got to do what we wanted to do, we wanted to bury her."

FSP client, 55+, South Lanarkshire

Again, funeral directors corroborated this and described situations where FSP helped clients to choose a funeral that better fit their needs, including opening up the option to choose a burial despite higher costs compared to a cremation.

"It enables some customers that we deal with to give their loved one the send-off that they want. Whereas if the FSP wasn't available they wouldn't be able to do that and they would end up with what is called a 'pauper's funeral', arranged by the local council where there so little to no choice."

Funeral director, smaller business, Aberdeenshire

Views/experiences of 'simple burials' and 'direct cremations'

When asked about the cost saving options of having a 'simple burial' or 'direct cremation', awareness among FSP recipients was fairly low. There were mixed views on the benefits of these options among participants.

On the one hand, one participant who had arranged a direct cremation for their mother was happy with this, as they were sure it was what she wanted. Others thought that they may have opted for it, had they had known it was available.

"I spoke to a relative of mine when they said that they thought that a funeral director had to offer you a kind of budget funeral. I was a wee bit angry that the funeral director hadn't done that."

FSP client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

However, there was evidence that this option may not be appropriate for everyone. One recipient who had arranged a direct cremation felt, with hindsight, that having such a stripped back service had not fully met their needs.

"[Since his death] I don't think I really stopped to think […] it was a case of just do it […] it's afterwards you come down and you go 'hang on a minute, I don't feel right' […] I hadn't had closure, so there was a bit of me that said, whilst I did what I did and I was happy enough with that, there was clearly a little something because I've been much more settled since [attending a funeral service for somebody who died in a similar situation]."

FSP client, 55+, Dundee

For certain participants, there was some uneasiness expressed about the idea of saving money on a funeral and a feeling that it was too important to 'cut corners'. One participant (who was not aware of the option at the time), felt so strongly that this option would not have been good enough that she would rather have got into debt than choose it.

"I wanted my daughter to have a proper funeral and to me that's not a proper funeral […] I wouldn't have done it, even if I took myself in debt, I wouldn't have done it. […]"

FSP client, 55+, Ayrshire

This experience was echoed among third sector organisations, who felt that those who did not want a basic service typically felt strongly about this.

Funeral directors expressed concerns that encouraging simple burials and direct cremations for financial reasons may lead to mental health issues for clients in the future. Third sector organisations also felt that basic services, particularly if they had to be unattended, could negatively impact on people's wellbeing.

"I have nothing against direct cremation, but it is being promoted […] as a panacea and it's not. It is definitely, definitely not, that is just kicking the mental health can further down the street […] to me it is not a funeral, it is a disposal […] as an informed choice, direct cremation is fine, but as this advertised, you know, generalised thing, no."

Funeral director, medium-sized business, West Lothian

"From our clients' point of view, it actually helps having an attended funeral or cremation, it helps with the grieving process. The majority of our clients I'd say would pay the extra cost to make that happen."

Third sector organisation

Other factors influencing funeral choices

While cost and respect for the wishes of the deceased were key considerations in funeral planning, the Covid-19 pandemic and expectations of others were also instrumental.

Covid-19 pandemic

Restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic had affected funeral arrangements (and, in turn, funeral costs). The main impact discussed related to the limits on the number of mourners who could attend. There were recipients who acknowledged that this saved on catering costs, although if people opted to stream the service online for those unable to attend in person, there could be an additional cost for this.

In other cases, the pandemic had not significantly affected clients' plans, particularly when they would not have had many people in attendance at the funeral they were planning regardless.

Impact of social and cultural norms

Cultural norms and social expectations could influence funeral choices and related costs. Religion, culture and expectations of others were all mentioned by participants.

While religion was an important factor when making funeral arrangements, it did not greatly affect costs. While one participant believed Muslim funerals may incur more expenses than typical Christian funerals, other Muslim participants described having simpler services.

"With our funerals I just think they are different because every Muslim is kind of different. My parents were pretty simple and when it comes to funerals, we don't hire out cars […] in my community we don't do flowers. A lot of other Muslims that I know do".

FSP client, 35-54, Glasgow

Culture and tradition were also seen to vary across different areas, for example a participant from Na h'Eileanan Siar said that it was not typical to do a wake in his community, which meant there were no catering costs.

The opinions of others, including close family and the wider community, had also played a role in decisions. For one participant, it was important that the community saw that her husband had been given a 'proper' funeral.

"I didn't want people looking out the window and thinking, 'Oh my God, that's all they can afford', so that did impact."

FSP client, 55+, South Ayrshire

Experiences of FSP payment method

Recipients can choose whether to receive FSP directly or have it sent straight to their funeral director. There were a range of views among recipients, funeral directors and stakeholders about this.

One reason clients had for receiving the payment themselves was a desire for peace of mind, knowing their funeral bill had been paid and they were not in debt to the funeral director. These participants would use their own money, or borrow from family or friends, to do this and wait to receive compensation in the form of FSP.

"I had the worry of how I was going to pay my son and daughter back, I wouldn't want the worry of how am I going to pay, like, virtual strangers. You know, I could talk to my son and daughter and make arrangements, but these guys are out working and trying to make a living, no, it is a business, you expect to get paid for a job that you've done. I wouldn't want them chasing me for money and what have you".

FSP client, 55+, South Ayrshire

On the other hand, there were a variety of reasons that some recipients chose for FSP to go straight to their funeral director.

First, it seemed like the easier option and was 'one less thing to do' in a difficult time. Third sector organisations also reflected on this as a benefit to recipients.

"I just had it paid straight to the funeral director, I didn't really want to have that responsibility, knowing that the money is there, may as well pay direct."

FSP client, 35-54, East Ayrshire

"There's a case to be made to pay directly to funeral directors, because a lot of [FSP recipients] are in a terrible emotional state, suffering anxiety at the loss of a loved one, they've got no support and the last thing they want to worry about is what to do with this money."

Third sector organisation

A worry expressed among FSP recipients was that, if they received the money personally, they might spend some of it and encounter problems paying the funeral director. Having the money sent to the funeral director alleviated this concern.

"It just takes that worry away, because when you're grieving like that, you know, your mind, you just can't think, you know, you're sort of there but you're not there, and it would be easy to make a mistake and spend some money that you shouldn't be spending."

FSP client, 55+, South Lanarkshire

The issue of money not being passed on was acknowledged as a significant risk by third sector groups who often supported clients with severe financial pressures and incentives to spend the money elsewhere. There was a concern that, when FSP clients did this, it could have the effect of worsening their debt and in some cases prevent the funeral from happening if the funeral director found out beforehand.

"When you're living day to day and you don't know where your next meal is coming from and they say to you do you want this money, rather than avoiding debt it can plunge them into even more significant debt. If the funeral hasn't already taken place and the funeral director becomes aware, that can prevent the funeral from happening."

Third sector organisation

Among funeral directors, there was a view that some recipients prefer to have FSP sent directly to their funeral director because it is easier and more direct.

"The best way to describe it is it almost appears grubby to the family, you know, because they have got to get the money and then give it to us, it is easier to come straight to us."

Funeral director, medium-sized business, West Lothian

Funeral directors expressed a strong preference to have FSP money sent directly to them for business reasons, which are discussed more in Chapter 7.



Back to top