Chapter 8: Conclusions and implications
Key conclusions and implications
The research identified a number of positive impacts of FSP:
- The prevention or minimisation of debt
- Enabling clients to focus on the grieving process rather than worrying about finances
- Providing some assurance to funeral directors on timely bill payment
Some issues for consideration were also highlighted:
- Improving awareness of FSP, such as through funeral directors or healthcare settings
- Reviewing aspects of the application process and eligibility criteria
- Improving the timeframe for decision-making and communication post-application
- Taking into account the range of views on the payment method
- Reviewing the FSP award amounts in relation to the average cost of funerals in Scotland
Impact of FSP
From the perspectives of clients, FSP appears to be having a positive impact in terms of helping people who are on low incomes and in receipt of qualifying benefits to cover the cost of a funeral. The purpose of the payment is well understood by clients, while funeral directors and third sector organisations feel confident in their ability to support people applying for, receiving, and using the payment.
In particular, the research highlighted the following positive impacts of FSP:
- Preventing or minimising the risk of debt among those who would have struggled to pay for the funeral without the support
- Enabling clients to focus on the grieving process rather than being overwhelmed by financial stress
- Providing some assurance to funeral directors that costs are covered, at least in part, and the risk of non-payment is minimised
Implications for policy
Clients welcomed the availability of FSP, while funeral directors and third sector organisations highlighted improvements in the administration of the support in comparison to the previous support offered by the UK government, such as a more streamlined application process and quicker decision-making.
However, the research has indentified a number of issues for consideration, acknowleding certain limitations of FSP and summarising potential improvements which could increase the impact of the support from the perspective of clients and the wider funeral industry.
Among FSP clients, awareness of the availability of the benefit prior to their bereavement was generally low. Described as a 'hidden benefit', it was felt that knowing about FSP sooner would have been beneficial and clients suggested a range of ways in which this could be done, from TV advertising to leaflets in GP surgeries, hospitals and other care settings. Funeral directors were also identified as an effective channel for promoting FSP, and were often cited as the first providers of information on FSP.
Funeral directors also felt that it would be easier for them to support FSP clients if there was greater promotion of FSP through their organisations as well as via third sector organisations.
Application and eligibility
The application process was generally considered to be straightforward and easy. However, some practical suggestions were offered to improve the process, including:
- Making the application more accessible by including additional support for:
- those whose level of English makes the application difficult
- those with learning difficulties
- those who found out about FSP online but do not feel digitally confident enough to complete the application this way
- Providing a confirmation email or reference number, particularly for applications made online, to confirm that the application has been received.
- Ensuring the demographic questions included in the application form are kept to the minimum necessary and do not place additional burden on applicants
In terms of eligibility, third sector organisations understood the criteria but felt that this was acting as a barrier to some of those in need of support (such as, in some cases, students, those working but on low incomes, and pensioners). It was felt that consideration could be given to whether the current eligibility criteria capture those most in need of the financial support.
Timeframe and communication
Clients typically learned the outcome, and received the payment, between two to five working days after their application. The time spent waiting for this was often described as difficult and worrisome, and in some cases led to financial strain when bills for the funeral had to paid before before FSP was received. In more exceptional cases, clients waited between four to six weeks for the payment and had to follow it up themselves to resolve any issues. Such delays and lack of comunication caused uncertainty and financial stress, as clients had to plan the funeral based on an unknown budget and deal with the worry of how to pay if FSP was not granted or was not enough to cover the whole cost.
Funeral directors also pointed to a lack of communication from Social Security Scotland following applications, and highlighted that the payment reference number system makes it difficult to identify which payment was for which funeral account. A review of how payments are referenced was therefore suggested, although the challenges around data privacy were acknowledged.
Third sector organisations in particular highlighted the impact of the wait time for both the funeral directors' business security and the clients' wellbeing and suggested that the timeframe for decision-making could be shortened. A review of cases where delays occurred may also help identify ways to streamline this part of the process. A further suggestion from the third sector was to release a smaller amount once an application has been accepted, to help clients with any imminent financial pressures, such as paying a deposit to the funeral director.
There were a range of experiences with the payment method, as some opted to receive the payment directly while others opted for it to be sent to the funeral director. The choice of payment method drew mixed views among recipients, funeral directors and stakeholders.
For those receiving FSP directly, it helped them better manage their money or avoid being in debt to a funeral director. Recipients who preferred to have FSP sent straight to their funeral director said this was less hassle and that there was less risk of them spending it on other things.
From the wider industry perspective, there was recognition of the need to balance the importance of client empowerment with the risk of non-payment. Funeral directors expressed a strong preference to receive the payment directly while, among third sector organisations, views were more nuanced. Empowering people to manage their money was considered positive. However the risk of money not being passed on, and the effects of this on clients' financial and mental wellbeing, were also acknowledged.
Given the wide range of implications raised in relation to the method of payment, careful consideration should be given to the efficacy of the current arrangement. One suggestion was that clients should be offered the choice in the first instance only, and that this should not be confirmed at a later stage as is current practice.
FSP as an effective contribution
There was widespread uncertainty about what exactly FSP would, or did, cover but there was a general awareness that FSP was a contribution towards recipients' funeral costs and it had covered 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 sense that FSP was not enough to be an effective contribution. With clients typically already living with financial stress at the time of their bereavement, the lack of alternative funds to pay the difference left some in significant debt. It was felt that the FSP award amount does not take account of the average cost of funerals in Scotland and could be reviewed.
The options for a simple burial or direct cremation were not widely known, although there were mixed views on the benefits of these. There was some concern among third sector organisations and funeral directors that such funerals may not always meet people's needs and should therefore be promoted carefully.
It was suggested that more information being provided at the point of application would help clarify expectations of what will and (more importantly) won't be covered by FSP, less in terms of specific elements but more in terms of the overall cost for a basic funeral. Although FSP was not widely perceived to have influenced funeral choices, which were already limited by a range of factors (primarily by limited funds), knowing what might be covered as early in the process as possible would help recipients them manage their budget effectively.
Ultimately, FSP put clients in a better financial position than they would have been otherwise, and allowed them to focus more on their grief. However, where there was a balance left to pay, this had a significant impact on clients' financial and mental wellbeing. It was also widely recognised that grieving is a long-term process and one which transcends financial circumstances.
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