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Funeral Support Payment: evaluation

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

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Conclusion

The purpose of the evaluation was to:

1. Evaluate the extent to which Funeral Support Payment achieved its policy objectives.

2. Assess the likely contribution of Funeral Support Payment to wider long-term government outcomes for bereaved families.

3. Discuss any implications for future policy development.

The first two of these has been achieved by reviewing the available evidence on Funeral Support Payment, drawn from different sources (primarily bespoke commissioned research carried out by Ipsos MORI, Official Statistics, and Social Security Scotland research). As discussed above, Funeral Support Payment has made good progress towards some of its immediate and short-term outcomes.

Based on this progress, it is reasonable to assume that the policy is also progressing positively towards its medium-term outcomes, and contributing towards the government's long-term aim of reduced funeral-related poverty.

Despite this progress, the evaluation has also highlighted some areas where Funeral Support Payment could be improved to achieve better outcomes for recipients and funeral businesses. These are outlined below.

Policy implications of Funeral Support Payment

Please note that these implications are largely drawn from the commissioned research report by Ipsos MORI, which is available in the full at Annex B. However, they also take into account the wider evidence from Official Statistics and Social Security Scotland research. They are as follows:

1. There could be a need to (a) raise more awareness of Funeral Support Payment, and (b) maximise take-up by eligible people who need Funeral Support Payment.

People find out about Funeral Support Payment via a range of sources including paid advertising, and it is taken up by people across Scotland with a range of demographic and equalities characteristics. However, there is a perception amongst Funeral Support Payment recipients and stakeholders that awareness of the benefit is low. Also, an initial estimate of take-up indicates that, between October 2019 and November 2021, around 40% of eligible people did not take the benefit up. Analytical challenges around estimating Funeral Support Payment eligibility mean that this figure should be interpreted cautiously. Also, where people make provisions to cover the cost of their own funeral, eligible people would not need to apply for Funeral Support Payment. However, steps to increase take-up may still be needed, because it is likely that some people who need the benefit are not applying for it. This could involve further promotions of the benefit to increase awareness. There may also be a need to investigate other factors which impact take-up.

2. There could be a need to (a) clarify what costs will be covered by Funeral Support Payment, and (b) review accessibility concerns with the application form.

Generally, the purpose of Funeral Support Payment and its eligibility are well understood, and the application process is considered to be straightforward. However, the commissioned research did unearth issues that people encounter when applying for Funeral Support Payment. For example, there is a general lack of clarity over what costs - including proportion of costs - Funeral Support Payment will cover. There were also some concerns about accessibility - in particular for:

  • those whose level of English makes the application difficult
  • those with learning difficulties
  • those who found out about Funeral Support Payment online but do not feel digitally confident enough to complete the application this way.

While the application process does have a range of accessibility features (e.g. the digital application process is compatible with assistive technologies, and clients can request phone calls and letters in a variety of formats e.g. in over 100 different languages) the evaluation findings suggest that more could be done to signpost users towards these features.

3. Where possible, steps could be taken taken to (a) review application processing times, and (b) improve communications after applications are submitted.

Third sector representatives and funeral directors recognise that Funeral Support Payment processing times are better than they were with the previous funeral grant, administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (i.e. Funeral Expenses Payment). Most applicants also feel that Funeral Support Payment processing times are reasonable. However, the evaluation shows that people typically wait more than 10 working days for an application decision, and it is increasingly common to wait more than 20 working days for a decision. This processing time includes time spent waiting to receive copies of documents or evidence requested from clients. This makes budgeting difficult, and can limit the positive impact of Funeral Support Payment on money-related stress and grief - particularly when applications are subject to considerable processing times. It can also create a sense of business risk for funeral directors.

The impact of longer waiting times is compounded by a perceived lack of communication from Social Security Scotland once applications have been submitted. Therefore, steps could be taken to review application processing times, and to expedite the decision-making process where possible. Additionally, communication with applicants once applications are submitted could be improved, particularly in cases where processing takes a long time.

4. Rises in funeral costs should be monitored, and Funeral Support Payment rates kept under review.

Funeral Support Payment can prevent or minimise the risk of debt for recipients. In general, recipients feel that the payment makes a helpful contribution to funeral costs. However, Funeral Support Payment does not remove the need for borrowing altogether, and while people feel it is helpful, they are less likely to feel that the payment has helped them to control their finances. Therefore, to ensure that Funeral Support Payment continues to be a helpful contribution, the average cost of a funeral should be monitored, and this should be reflected in the fixed rate of Funeral Support Payment where it is possible to do so.

5. More data is required to fully evaluate progress towards Funeral Support Payment outcomes.

It has been touched on throughout this report that there is a lack of data to evaluate the medium-term and long-term impacts of Funeral Support Payment. For example, the evaluation shows that Funeral Support Payment minimises the need for borrowing and the risk of debt. However, the true impact of this - on the subsequent indebtedness of bereaved people on low incomes, and longer-term poverty stemming from funerals – cannot be assessed with the available evidence. Similarly, whilst the evaluation shows that Funeral Support Payment minimises the risk to funeral directors of non-payment, it is not possible to measure the true extent of this impact. Continued efforts should therefore be made to obtain the data required to fully evaluate the progress of Funeral Support Payment towards its stated outcomes.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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