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Funeral Support Payment: evaluation

This report presents findings from the evaluation of Funeral Support Payment.

This document is part of a collection


Findings

This chapter presents the findings of the evaluation of progress towards Funeral Support Payment's immediate, short-term and medium-term policy outcomes. Based on this, likely progress towards the long-term Scottish Government outcome of reducing poverty stemming from funerals is assessed. The section ends with a discussion of the policy implications that emerge from the evaluation findings.

Achievement against immediate Funeral Support Payment policy outcomes

This section evaluates Funeral Support Payment against the following policy outcomes:

  • Funeral Support Payment is well promoted
  • Funeral Support Payment and its eligibility criteria are well understood
  • Funeral Support Payment is taken up
  • Application process is clear and easy
  • Applications are processed in a timely manner
  • Clients feel they have been treated with fairness, dignity and respect
  • Reduced uncertainty about what Funeral Support Payment will provide

It uses data from bespoke commissioned research, Official Statistics, and Social Security Scotland research.

Funeral Support Payment is well promoted

There are a number of ways to evaluate whether Funeral Support Payment is well promoted. An indirect method is to look at overall take-up of Funeral Support Payment, as this could be related to the effectiveness of promotional activity. Take-up refers to the extent to which people receive the benefits they are eligible for. This can be estimated by measuring the 'take-up' rate, which is the number of benefit recipients divided by the number of people eligible to receive the benefit.

An initial take-up estimate is provided for Funeral Support Payment in the Social security: benefit take-up strategy. It shows that, for deaths registered between October 2019 and November 2021, take-up was estimated to be 59%. However, this figure should be interpreted with caution, because:

1. Measuring take-up involves estimating how many people are eligible for a benefit. This process is challenging for Funeral Support Payment because it involves identifying who would have been responsible for a funeral, which cannot be known for certain. As such, the estimated take-up figure Funeral Support Payment is less certain than the estimated take-up figures of other low-income benefits mentioned in the benefit take-up strategy.

2. Not everyone who is eligible for Funeral Support Payment will need it, as people can make provisions to cover the cost of their own funeral.

The commissioned research gives more insight into the promotion of Funeral Support Payment. Amongst the Funeral Support Payment recipients who were interviewed, awareness of the benefit prior to their bereavement was generally low. Funeral Support Payment was described as a 'hidden benefit', and it was felt that the support is not widely advertised. Third sector interviewees agreed that levels of awareness among the general public were not as high as they could be.

Another way to evaluate Funeral Support Payment promotion is to consider how people find out about the benefit. Most of the recipients interviewed in the commissioned research said that they heard about Funeral Support Payment through their funeral director. This reflects that many were unaware of Funeral Support Payment prior to their bereavement. However, recipients also found out about Funeral Support Payment in a range of other ways, namely:

  • Hospitals
  • Their church or mosque
  • Charities or third sector organisations
  • Family member or social worker
  • Through work
  • News/media/social media
  • While applying for Universal Credit as a result of their bereavement.

Funeral Support Payment and its eligibility criteria are well understood

The commissioned research shows that recipients tended to have an accurate understanding of whether or not they would be eligible for Funeral Support Payment. They also felt that the information provided on the Scottish Government's website, or that they were given on the phone by Social Security Scotland staff, was sufficient. For example, one participant remarked that the guidance 'did what is said on the tin' in terms of explaining what the payment was and who could apply for it.

Funeral Support Payment is taken up

A direct way to assess progress on this outcome is to calculate the 'take-up' rate, which is the number of benefit recipients divided by the number of people eligible to receive the benefit.

For deaths registered between October 2019 and November 2021, take-up was estimated to be 59%. As explained above, challenges estimating eligibility for Funeral Support Payment mean that this figure should be interpreted cautiously. Additionally, people can make provisions to cover the cost of their own funeral, which means some eligible people would not need to apply for the Funeral Support Payment. However, despite these uncertainties, it is still likely that eligible people who needed the benefit did not apply for it.

There are other ways to evaluate the overall reach of Funeral Support Payment. For example, Official Statistics show take-up of the benefit in round figures. For the period covering September 2019 to March 2022, 21,375 Funeral Support Payment applications were made, of which 20,675 had been processed. Of these, 77% were authorised, 13% were denied, and 10% were withdrawn (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Funeral Support Payment application outcomes – September 2019 to March 2022 (n=20,675)

Funeral Support Payment application outcomes up to March 2022 in a pie chart

77% of applications approved, 13% of applications denied, and 10% of applications withdrawn. The total number of applications up to March 2022 was 20,675.

Investigation of Social Security Scotland management information shows the most common reasons why applications were denied:

  • The applicant was not in receipt of a qualifying benefit
  • The applicant was not reasonably responsible for funeral costs.

Official Statistics also show that 580 redeterminations[6] were requested by Funeral Support Payment applicants in the period from September 2019 to March 2022 - representing 2.8% of all processed Funeral Support Payment applications. 575 of these had been decided, of which:

  • 235 were allowed or partially allowed
  • 285 were disallowed and
  • 55 were withdrawn.

In addition, 30 appeals were made on re-determination decisions. Of these, 25 were completed, and 5 were upheld in the applicant's favour.

Another way to assess the take-up and overall reach of Funeral Support Payment is to consider the diversity of people applying for or receiving the benefit. This can be done by examining data on the demographics and individual characteristics of applicants.

Official Statistics show that Funeral Support Payment applications were submitted by people living in all 32 local authorities in Scotland. In terms of total approved applications, the highest local authorities were Glasgow City (3,590), North Lanarkshire (1,565), and South Lanarkshire (1,185). The lowest were Na h-Eileanan Siar (35), Orkney Islands (25), and Shetland Islands (20).

Social Security Scotland client diversity and equalities analysis provides more information on the outcomes of applications by each of the equalities groups:

  • Table 1 presents a secondary analysis of equalities data where clients had their applications approved from 9 December 2019 to 31 May 2021
  • Table 2 presents a secondary analysis of equalities data where clients had their applications approved from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021.

Note that the time period covered in Table 1 is longer than Table 2. This is because published data on the characteristics covered in Table 2 does not go as far back as December 2019. A more detailed breakdown of the data in both of these tables, with additional notes, is provided at Annex A.

Table 1: Funeral Support Payment equalities data for approved applications - 9 December 2019 to 31 May 2021 (n=6,450)
Category %
Gender
Man 31%
Woman 62%
In another way -
Preferred not to say 7%
Age
16-24 3%
25-34 12%
35-44 17%
45-65 45%
65+ 23%
Physical or mental health condition or illness
Yes 35%
No 50%
Preferred not to say 14%
Ethnicity
White 91%
Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, African, Other Ethnic Group 1%
Asian 1%
Caribbean or black -
Preferred not to say 7%
Religion
No religion 47%
Roman Catholic 18%
Church of Scotland 18%
Other Christian 3%
Muslim 1%
Jewish, Hindu -
Other religion 1%
Buddhist, Sikh, or Pagan 1%
Preferred not to say 12%
Table 2 Funeral Support Payment equalities data for approved applications from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021 (n=4,445)
Category %
Urban Rural[7]
Large urban area 43%
Other urban area 38%
Accessible small town 7%
Remote small town 2%
Accessible rural area 7%
Remote rural area 3%
SIMD[8]
1 (most deprived) 48%
2 27%
3 14%
4 8%
5 (least deprived) 3%
Residence on mainland or island communities
Scottish Mainland 99%
Scottish Island 1%

Secondary analysis of the most recently published Funeral Support Payment statistics provides more detail on the reach of the benefit[9]. For all applications processed between September 2019 to March 2022:

1. 535 applications were received for funerals which took place in the rest of the UK (i.e. outside Scotland). Of these, 31% were approved, 56% were denied, and 13% were withdrawn.

2. 85 applications were received for funerals which took place outside the UK. Of these, 24% were approved, 59% were denied, and 18% were withdrawn.

As presented in Table 3, the data also shows (a) the relationship of Funeral Support Payment applicants to the deceased, and (b) approval rates for each type of relation.

Table 3 Relationship of Funeral Support Payment applicant to deceased and application approval rates
Relation Number of processed applications Approved (%) Denied (%) Withdrawn (%)
Child 7,290 81% 11% 8%
Partner 7,040 71% 17% 12%
Parent 2,690 84% 10% 6%
Sibling 2,075 82% 11% 6%
Friend 425 78% 14% 8%
Niece or Nephew 375 79% 13% 8%
Grandchild 325 72% 17% 11%
Aunt or Uncle 95 79% 16% 5%
Cousin 90 78% 11% 11%
Grandparent 55 73% 18% 5%
Unknown 220 - 2% 98%

Making an application is clear and easy

Official Statistics show that for all applications to March 2022, a total of 11,740 (55%) were made online, while 8,585 (40%) were made on the telephone, and 1,050 (5%) were paper-based. When compared with other low-income benefits administered by Social Security Scotland, Funeral Support Payment has (a) a lower proportion of online applications, and (b) a higher proportion phone applications[10].

The Client Survey reveals more ways Funeral Support Payment applications differ from other low-income benefit applications. For example, 27% of respondents who had only applied for Funeral Support Payment (n=331) completed the application on behalf of someone else (i.e. as an appointee), compared to an average of 6% across respondents who had only applied for other benefits. The findings also show that 79% had been in contact with Social Security Scotland staff, compared to an average of 30% across other benefits[11].

The Client Survey also asks respondents about their experience of the application process. Amongst Funeral Support Payment applicants (n=317-337):

  • 63% said their experience of the application process overall was 'very good', and 28% said it was 'good' (i.e. 90% positive)
  • 49% 'strongly agreed' that the application process was clear, and 41% 'agreed' (i.e. 91% positive).

The commissioned research findings broadly align with Official Statistics and Client Survey data. While in exceptional cases clients felt the application process was not straightforward, the prevailing view was that it was 'easy', 'quick', and 'simple'. Third sector representatives and funeral directors also felt that applications are mostly straightforward. Furthermore, funeral directors with experience of the UK Government grant (which Funeral Support Payment has replaced in Scotland) felt that Funeral Support Payment was an improvement on the previous system:

"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 minutes to go through the paperwork."

Funeral director, smaller business, Aberdeenshire

However, the commissioned research also drew attention to specific barriers people face when applying for Funeral Support Payment. Recipients described instances where someone (e.g. a family member) helped them to make an online application, due to: English not being their first language; a lack of digital confidence; or having learning difficulties such as dyslexia. These issues are likely to contribute to the higher number of appointees assisting with applications.

Applications are processed in a timely manner

As stated in the introduction section of this report, Social Security Scotland aims to process completed Funeral Support Payment applications within ten working days of receiving all supporting evidence for an application. However, the application processing times provided in Official Statistics are based on the number of working days from the point where applications were initially submitted by applicants (whether or not they contained all supporting evidence), to the date that a decision was made or the application was withdrawn.

On the basis described above, Official Statistics show that a total of 20,385 Funeral Support Payment applications were processed between September 2019 and March 2022 (this figure excludes cases where a re-determination was requested – i.e. approximately 2.8% of applications). Overall, 43% of applications were processed within 10 working days, 38% were processed in 11-20 working days, and 19% were processed in 21 working days or more.

A secondary analysis of application processing times – not including the 2.8% of processed applications for which a redetermination was requested - is shown in Table 4. The analysis is based on calendar quarters[12]. Note that figures for September 2019, which is when Funeral Support Payment opened for applications, have been added to the October to December 2019 quarter. The figures show that:

1. To the end of 2020, the majority of applications were typically processed within 10 working days.

2. From the January 2021 onwards, the majority of applications were typically processed in longer than 10 working days – and increasingly applications have taken 21 working days or more to process.

3. In the two most recent quarters - ranging from October 2021 to March 2022 - there has been a notable decline in the percentage of applications processed within 10 working days.

Table 4 FSP application processing times per quarter
Quarter Number of processed applications 10 working days or less 11-20 working days 21 working days or more
Sep-19 to Dec-19 1,560 66% 25% 10%
Jan-20 to Mar-20 1,725 57% 29% 13%
Apr-20 to Jun-20 2,140 49% 36% 15%
Jul-20 to Sep-20 2,030 62% 22% 16%
Oct-20 to Dec-20 1,920 60% 24% 16%
Jan-21 to Mar-21 2,450 41% 42% 17%
Apr-21 to Jun-21 1,945 38% 41% 22%
Jul-21 to Sep-21 2,295 49% 33% 18%
Oct-21 to Dec-21 1,825 16% 58% 26%
Jan-22 to Mar-22 2,475 6% 61% 33%

The Client Survey asked respondents their opinion on (a) whether their application was handled within a reasonable time frame, and (b) whether they got enough updates on the progress of their application. The answers are provided in Table 5. They show that most felt that their applications were handled in a reasonable time, and that they got enough progress updates on their applications[13]. However, it is worth noting that:

  • While 4% 'disagreed' or 'strongly disagreed' that the time spent handling their application was reasonable;
  • 8% 'disagreed' or 'strongly disagreed' that they got enough updates on the progress of their application.

These findings suggest that applicants were more likely to feel negatively about communications while waiting for a decision, compared to overall time spent waiting for a decision. The Client Survey also found that 32% of respondents who applied for Funeral Support Payment (n=312) contacted Social Security Scotland to find out about the progress of their application.

Table 5 FSP applicants thoughts on application processing times and updates
Number of respondents Strongly Disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly Agree
My application was handled in a reasonable timeframe 316 1% 3% 4% 42% 50%
I got enough updates on the progress of my application 301 1% 7% 11% 35% 45%

The commissioned research shows that, in cases where there were issues with Funeral Support Payment, they tended to arise after the application form was submitted. For example, online applicants experienced a lack of communication from Social Security Scotland whilst waiting for an application decision. Recipients noted that they did not get an email or reference number to confirm their application had been received, resulting in some doubt if it had gone through successfully.

Some of the commissioned research participants reported considerable waits for an application decision (up to 6 weeks), and contacted Social Security Scotland to discover the reason for the delay. There were also instances where participants had to re-upload evidence or repeat information they had already given earlier in the application process.

"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."

Funeral Support Payment client, 55+, West Dunbartonshire

Even when there were no delays and payment was made quickly following a decision, the funeral had usually taken place by the time payment was received. Waiting for an outcome was described as particularly difficult and worrisome, and led to financial strain when clients had to cover funeral costs before Funeral Support Payment was received. Third sector organisations, while acknowleging that decision-making had improved under the Funeral Support Payment system, also raised concerns around delayed decision-making for both clients and funeral directors.

"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 representative

Clients feel they have been treated with dignity, fairness and respect

The Client Survey asked applicants directly about their experiences with Social Security Scotland, including how they felt they had been treated by the organisation. The responses from Funeral Support Payment applicants (see Table 6) show that a large majority 'agreed' or 'strongly agreed' that they had been treated with dignity, fairness, and respect.

Table 6 FSP applicants treatment by Social Security Scotland
Number of respondents Strongly Disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly Agree
I was treated with dignity 325 - 2% 7% 34% 55%
I was treated with fairness 313 - 2% 8% 36% 52%
I was treated with respect 320 - 1% 6% 36% 56%

As mentioned above, the Client Survey also shows that 79% of respondents who applied for Funeral Support Payment (n=335) had been in contact with Social Security Scotland staff. Of these respondents:

  • 65% rated their experience with staff as 'very good'
  • 26% rated their experience as 'good'
  • 3% rated their experience with staff as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

Survey respondents were asked more questions about their interactions with staff. As shown in Table 7, large majorities of Funeral Support applicants felt that (a) they had been treated with kindness by staff, (b) staff were able to help them, and (c) staff were knowledgeable about benefits.

Table 7 FSP applicants thoughts on interactions with Social Security Scotland staff
Number of respondents Strongly Disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly Agree
I was treated with kindness 257 0% 0% 3% 36% 60%
Staff were able to help me 252 2% 2% 5% 33% 57%
Staff were knowledgeable about benefits 254 1% 1% 9% 32% 57%

The Client Survey also asked whether respondents felt that they had been discriminated against at some point during their experience with Social Security Scotland. Amongst Funeral Support Payment applicants (n=334), 3% said they had been discriminated against, whilst 2% preferred not to say.

Feedback statistics collated by Social Security Scotland show that, between September 2019 and September 2021, 30 complaints were received for Funeral Support Payment out of the 16,775 applications which had been received at that time. Of these:

  • 20 related to 'Client Expectations not met – Quality of Service'
  • 5 related to 'Client expectations not met – Accessing services'
  • 5 were for 'Client expectations not met – Timescales'.

For the same period, Social Security Scotland received 35 compliments for Funeral Support Payment.

The commissioned research participants were generally positive about their experience of the application process, and this extended to praise for Social Security Scotland staff who handled telephone calls.

"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."

Funeral Support Payment client, 55+, Na h-Eileanan Siar

However, reflecting the statistics above, not all experiences were positive. In less typical cases participants felt they had been judged, challenged, or that attempts were being made to 'catch them out'.

Reduced uncertainty about what Funeral Support Payment will provide

The commissioned research findings show that, when applying for Funeral Support Payment, people were generally unclear about what it would provide. To some extent this was because they were in the early stages of bereavement, and therefore did not recall focusing on the specifics of what the payment would cover. Rather, they hoped it would contribute to basic costs of the funeral, while understanding that it may not cover the whole cost.

Third sector participants and funeral directors felt there needed to be more clarity over what Funeral Support Payment would or would not cover. One view was that this was better explained for the Department of Work and Pensions equivalent of Funeral Support Payment (i.e. Funeral Expenses Payment):

"The Funeral Support Payment information under mygov.scot website doesn't really show or explain clearly in the way I think the DWP one does. For regular members of the public, who aren't getting info from us, how much would they know or understand about how much they would get in advance?"

Third sector representative

Achievement against short-term policy outcomes

This section assesses Funeral Support Payment against the following policy outcomes:

  • Clients can pay for funerals within a reasonable timeframe
  • Funeral Support Payment is a helpful contribution towards the cost of funeral
  • Reduced need for borrowing to arrange a funeral
  • Reduced incidence of money-related stress and grief
  • Increased timely payments to funeral directors

It uses data from bespoke commissioned research, Official Statistics, and Social Security Scotland research.

Clients can pay for funerals within a reasonable timeframe

According to Official Statistics, 14,525 payments were administered to Funeral Support Payment recipients between September 2019 and March 2022, with a total payment value of £25,474,359. In the Client Survey:

  • 93% of Funeral Support Payment recipients (n=293) rated their experience of receiving the payment as 'very good' or 'good'.

In the commissioned research, recipients did not report any issues receiving the payment once the outcome of their application was known. However, as shown previously in the findings section, it is common for Funeral Support Payment applicants to wait more than 10 working days for a decision on their application. It is also increasingly common for applicants to wait 21 working days or more. For example, between January and March 2022, 33% of processed applications took 21 working days or more – higher than any previous quarter since the benefit was launched.

It was typical for commissioned research participants to have gone ahead with funeral arrangements without knowing whether they would receive Funeral Support Payment. They generally found the time spent waiting for a decision to be worrying, and this was exacerbated when decisions were delayed. It led to some covering the funeral costs temporarily, which created financial strain. One participant, who waited a long time for an application decision, felt under pressure from the funeral director to cover the costs before the payment had come through - without knowing what the amount would be.

Funeral Support Payment is a helpful contribution towards cost of funeral

The average funeral in Scotland is estimated to cost over £3,500[14]. Official Statistics show that, in the most recent financial year (2021-22), the average Funeral Support Payment issued was £1,810. This figure is an increase on previous years (see Table 8).

Table 8 Average value of Funeral Support Payment issued per financial year
Financial year Payment amount
2019-20 £1,505
2020-21 £1,791
2021-22 £1,810

Client Survey respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 0-10 ('not at all' to 'a lot'), how much their benefit payment helped them to pay for what they needed. Funeral Support Payment recipients (n=259) gave an average score of 8.4 out of 10, indicating that the benefit is generally considered to be a helpful contribution towards the cost of a funeral.

The commissioned research participants were asked to what extent their funeral costs were covered by Funeral Support Payment. Their estimates ranged from one-fifth to the full cost, and the proportion funded by Funeral Support Payment generally correlated with the overall cost of the funeral. For example, one participant who had around one-fifth of their costs covered arranged a funeral on the more expensive range of the spectrum. Notably, none of the commissioned research participants arranged funerals where the deceased had a funeral plan.

The participants also gave their views on how helpful Funeral Support Payment was as a contribution to costs. Generally, the payment was welcomed. However, among those who did not have the entire cost of the funeral covered, there was a feeling that Funeral Support Payment needed to be higher in order to be an effective contribution. They typically did not feel that they had planned extravagant funerals that could easily have been scaled back. This was supported by funeral directors.

"We find that the people who are on the low incomes who when the Funeral Support Payment helps 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

Notably, the commissioned research highlighted that people who live in remote areas may be particularly likely to encounter high funeral costs, and that this may impact whether Funeral Support Payment makes a helpful contribution.

"If you are dying in Mull, Tiree or Coll, Helensburgh is the nearest crematorium or Inverness. […] 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

Reduced need for borrowing to arrange a funeral

Client Survey respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 0-10 ('not at all' to 'a lot'), how much their benefit payment(s) helped them to control their finances. Funeral Support Payment recipients (n=259) gave an average score of 7.7 out of 10. This indicates that:

1. Funeral Support Payment does generally help people to control their finances. This could mean reduced borrowing to arrange a funeral. However, more data would be needed to confirm this.

2. Although the payment helps people to control their finances, respondents gave a higher score (8.4 out of 10, as shown above) when asked if it helped them to pay for what they needed. This could suggest that borrowing to arrange a funeral is still an issue for some recipients.

The commissioned research findings broadly reflect the Client Survey findings. They show that, in general, Funeral Support Payment did reduce the extent to which clients had to borrow money to pay the funeral director. Depending on the support network recipients had available, this borrowing could have been in the form of loans from friends and family, taking on credit card debt, going into their overdraft, borrowing money from a lender, or remaining in debt to the funeral director until they were able to pay it off gradually.

"If I didn't get any help, God forgive me but I'd be dead before the rest of it would get paid. How long is it going to take me to pay £1800 back? [Taking an amount] every fortnight off my pension, I mean…"

Funeral Support Payment client, 55+, Renfrewshire

There were also clients who anticipated that, without Funeral Support Payment, they would have had to cut back on other areas of their life. For example, one reported that they would have sold their car to cover the costs, while another would have rationed their spending on essentials to pay the bill.

"Yes, it made a big difference. If hadn't got it, I would need to take the money from what I would spend on food, electricity, children going to university so that was helpful as I don't need to think about it. I might have been stuck with debt. I didn't expect the help to be like that."

Funeral Support Payment client, 35-54, North Ayrshire

Despite the above, interviewees described still having to borrow money to pay for the remainder of the funeral costs, which was particularly difficult for those without a wider support network in place, able to lend money or contribute to costs. The need for clients to borrow was also raised by third sector organisations.

"The Royal London's funeral cost index showed the cost of a funeral in 2020 compared with the Funeral Support Payment award and you're talking about 50%, so in that sense for those people getting Funeral Support Payment they're still facing debt like they were before. That broad general situation hasn't changed."

Third Sector Representative

Reduced incidence of money-related stress and grief

The commissioned research shows that interviewees felt grateful and relieved when they received Funeral Support Payment. There were participants who had lost someone unexpectedly, had minimal or no savings to put towards a funeral, and whose relatives had left nothing behind to help with funeral costs. In these cases, the positive impact of Funeral Support Payment on levels of financial stress was felt particularly strongly.

The research participants also reported that the payment (a) supported a healthy grieving process by allowing them to have a funeral that better fitted their needs, and avoid feeling like they were letting their relative down, (b) allowed them to focus on other considerations around planning the funeral and beginning to grieve, and (c) made it easier to achieve closure and move on with the grieving process once the funeral bill was paid.

"It was like the black clouds disappeared and there were big white ones up there somewhere. It was massive, it was absolutely massive. […]. Then I could get on with arranging a funeral rather than worrying, 'how am I going to pay for it?"

Funeral Support Payment client, 55+, South Ayrshire

However, recipients recognised that grieving is a life-long process and that there was a limit to the extent to which much money could make it easier. The impact of Funeral Support Payment was also limited where clients (a) experienced delays in receiving the payment and did not know how much of the funeral costs would be covered, and (b) did not have the full cost of the funeral covered.

"It has reduced stress, yes absolutely. But sometimes not for a while or it causes more stress because most of the time they don't actually know before the funeral if they'll be successful in their claim so it gives them a lot of worry before and during the funeral. Sometimes they've asked me about it or said they haven't heard back at the funeral - it's the last thing that should be on their mind at a funeral."

Funeral director, larger business, Dundee

"We see clients… their grief, their ability to grieve is impacted by the genuine fear and terror for some people over how they can afford to pay the rest."

Third sector representative

Increased timely payments to funeral directors

When applying for Funeral Support Payment, applicants can choose to receive the payment themselves, or have it paid directly to funeral directors. Official Statistics show that of the 14,525 payments made from November 2019 to March 2022:

  • 4,990 (34%) were made to clients
  • 9,535 (66%) were made to funeral directors.

The commissioned research pursued the issue of payments with participating funeral directors. Those interviewed said that payments from Funeral Support Payment recipients were generally as timely, or timelier, than those from non-Funeral Support Payment recipients, particularly in cases where the Funeral Support Payment was transferred directly to their business. Reclaiming money from the estate to pay for a funeral could take a year, so Funeral Support Payment money came quicker in comparison. One funeral director also suggested that Funeral Support Payment makes it more likely that the entire bill would be paid in a timely manner, because families on low incomes had a smaller balance to pay off themselves.

However, issues were also reported. Firstly, funeral directors said that they had difficulties accessing information about progress of Funeral Support Payment claims, which impacted their business security. Secondly, it was also said that they did not always receive the Funeral Support Payment money when it was paid directly to clients. As a result, there were those who believed that the Funeral Support Payment should always automatically be sent directly to funeral directors.

"There is a lack of communication. They don't indicate if the claim has been successful. We have to start doing the funeral without knowing if we'll get paid. […] It's taking a gamble."

Funeral director, larger business, Dundee

"As the payment is to help with funeral costs, we feel all payments should be sent directly to the funeral director and not be an option. Some families have received the payment and not passed it on which then leads to an unsavoury course of action where we need to chase them for the money causing them more distress and a real headache for us."

Funeral director, Dundee (feedback by email)

However, it is unclear how widespread an issue this is as there is no wider evidence of clients failing to send on the Funeral Support Payment money.

Notably, some of the recipients who were interviewed chose to receive the payment themselves. In these cases they paid the funeral director with their own money (sometimes borrowed from family or friends) and latterly were compensated by Funeral Support Payment. They said it gave them peace of mind knowing that they were not in debt to the funeral director, and so preferred having this option.

Achievement against medium-term policy outcomes

This section assesses Funeral Support Payment against the following policy outcomes:

  • Reduced incidence of debt stemming from funerals
  • Reduced business insecurity for funeral directors
  • Clients have a positive experience of the Social Security system

It uses data from bespoke commissioned research and Social Security Scotland research.

Reduced incidence of debt stemming from funerals

More robust quantiative data would be required to fully evaluate progress towards this policy outcome. However, as discussed above, the commissioned research findings provide an insight into borrowing at the time of the funeral. They indicate that Funeral Support Payment reduces the need for clients to take on debt, and in some cases covers the entire cost of the funeral. However, they also show that Funeral Support Payment does not stop people getting into debt altogether. It is therefore a reasonable assumption that some recipients experience a period of indebtedness because of funeral costs. However, the nature and extent of this problem is unknown at this time.

Reduced business insecurity for funeral directors

More data would be required to fully evaluate progress towards this policy outcome. However, the commissioned research, discussed above, suggests that Funeral Support Payment does lead to the timely payment of funeral costs. Yet funeral directors also report business risk (i.e. non-payment for services rendered) in cases where (a) application outcomes are not made quickly, and/or (b) Funeral Support Payment is paid directly to clients, as opposed to funeral directors. The research also shows that, while Funeral Support Payment helps with funeral costs, recipients can still be left with a balance to pay, and may find it difficult to do so. At the moment, however, there is no data available to objectively assess the positive impact of Funeral Support Payment on the funeral industry, or the extent to which perceived issues with the benefit are widespread.

Clients have a positive experience of Scotland's Social Security system

Medium-term progress towards this outcome will not be clear until future iterations of the Client Survey (and Social Security Scotland feedback data) have been published. To date, only one iteration of the Client Survey gathered data from Funeral Support Payment recipients.

However, a robust picture has emerged on short-term experiences of the Social Security Scotland amongst Funeral Support Payment clients. As discussed earlier in the report, the Client Survey shows that a large majority of people who applied for Funeral Support Payment had a positive experience with Social Security Scotland, and felt like they were treated with dignity, fairness and respect. The findings also indicate that most people had a positive experience of the application process, and that Funeral Support Payment (a) helped them to pay for what they needed, and (b) helped them to control their finances. However, not everyone felt the same. The findings reveal that, on most measures, a small minority of respondents who applied for Funeral Support Payment did not give positive feedback.

The commissioned research findings generally reflect the Client Survey findings. Recipients typically had a positive experience of applying for Funeral Support Payment and engaging with Social Security Scotland. Generally speaking, they felt the payment had a positive impact on their finances and wellbeing. However, like Client Survey respondents, some reported negative experiences of the application process and interactions with Social Security Scotland staff. There were also notable concerns about the time taken to process applications. Clients typically proceeded with funeral arrangements while awaiting an outcome, in some cases covering costs themselves. In cases where there were delays to the process, this caused distress to clients.

Evidence of positive progress towards long-term outcomes for low income families

One of the Scottish Government's wider long-term goals is to create a reduction in poverty which stems from funeral costs, as a result of unsustainable debt. As mentioned earlier in this report, to fully evaluate progress towards this goal: (a) a suitable amount of time should have passed since Funeral Support Payment began, and (b) more robust quantiative data with suitable data items would be needed, so that the impact of Funeral Support Payment can be measured and differentiated from other possible contributory factors (e.g. wider social security measures, and non-social security measures like those set out in the Scottish Government's Funeral Costs Plan).

Despite the above, it can be reasonably expected that success against Funeral Support Payment's immediate and short-term policy outcomes could contribute to a reduction in funeral-related poverty in the long-term. Based on the available evidence presented in this report, the following summary of progress can be made.

Evaluation against immediate outcomes (process)

  • People tend to understand the purpose of Funeral Support Payment and its eligibility criteria.
  • The Funeral Support Payment application process is mostly viewed as being quick and easy, and applicants feel well treated by Social Security Scotland.
  • Successful applications for Funeral Support Payment are made by people across Scotland with a diverse range of demographics and equalities characteristics.
  • However, there is a perception amongst recipients and third sector representatives that awareness of Funeral Support Payment is low.
  • Recent estimates suggest around 40% did not take the benefit up between October 2019 and November 2021. Despite caveats around this statistic, explained above, it is still likely that some eligible people who needed the benefit did not take it up.
  • Over the past year, application processing times have increased. When it takes considerable time for application decisions to be made it can lead to distress amongst applicants, and in some cases financial challenges.
  • Prior to application decisions being made, there is a lack of clarity about the costs Funeral Support Payment will cover.

Evaluation against short-term outcomes (process and policy overlap)

  • Once application decisions are made, people are generally satisfied with the time it takes to receive payment from Social Security Scotland.
  • However, there are cases where people have to wait an extended period of time (over 21 working days at least) to receive an application decision, from the time they submit an initial application.
  • There is a general perception that Funeral Support Payment is a helpful contribution towards the cost of a funeral, albeit some recipients feel that it is not enough when compared with the actual costs of a funeral.

Evaluation against short-term outcomes (policy)

  • Funeral Support Payment reduces the need for people to borrow money to arrange a funeral.
  • People welcome the payment, and feel like it has a positive impact on their stress levels at a difficult time.
  • Funeral Support Payment also leads to the timely payment of funeral directors.
  • However, the payment does not remove the need for borrowing completely, and its positive impact on stress can be limited when application outcomes take a long time.
  • Funeral directors also report business risk when application decisions take a long time.

This summary shows that positive progress has been made against immediate and short-term Funeral Support Payment outcomes, but that there are some outstanding issues with the benefit. Implications are discussed in the conclusion chapter below.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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