The Scotland Act 2016 devolved new social security powers to Scotland. This included competence for the Funeral Expenses Payment (more commonly known as the Funeral Payment). Using powers in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, Scottish Ministers will create a new benefit (to replace the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Funeral Payment in Scotland) called Funeral Expense Assistance (FEA), which will be delivered by Summer 2019.
FEA will provide a one-off payment to support people on certain low income benefits or tax credits by providing a contribution towards the cost of a funeral. The FEA payment is made up of two elements, these being the reasonable actual costs for the burial or cremation (including any documentation required and things such as travel costs); and a flat rate payment as a contribution for other expenses (including such things as funeral director fees, a coffin, flowers, etc.). The other expenses flat rate payment will either be £700, for the majority of eligible applicants where the deceased had no funeral provision in place, or £120 for eligible applicants where the deceased had made provision for their funeral through a funeral plan.
Under proposed eligibility, FEA will reach around 2,000 additional people each year compared to the current DWP Funeral Payment. This will take the total number of payments to approximately 5,600 each year, once a steady state is reached, and annual expenditure to around £8 million.
In addition to those who will be eligible to claim this new assistance, FEA impacts on those who work in the funeral industry, including local authorities, funeral directors and private crematoriums, as well as people who provide support to those who have been bereaved. FEA seeks to offer reassurance to those in the industry that payment for services will be met in a timely fashion. It also seeks to remove some of the financial stresses and anxieties experienced by bereaved family members which in turn may reduce the need for them to seek support for debt or other related issues. Tackling funeral poverty, and ensuring that all individuals are treated with dignity, fairness and respect are at the core of FEA.
The Scottish Government believes that understanding and learning from the experiences of individuals and organisations that come into contact with the current benefits system is vital to developing FEA and ensuring its effectiveness over time. To this end, a consultation exercise was developed which was accessible and would allow input from as broad a range of interested parties as possible.
Prior to developing the consultation, the Scottish Government gathered views in a number of ways including:
- from the FEA Reference Group, which was established in March 2016. The group met nine times to help gather evidence, bring a variety of informed perspectives and provide feedback on proposals;
- through the Social Security in Scotland Consultation which ran from July to October 2016. The section on FEA received 156 responses from both organisations and individuals;
- during three roundtable meetings and at the National Conference on Funeral Poverty in Autumn 2016;
- from Experience Panel members; and
- by meeting individual organisations to discuss specific areas and interests.
Building on these activities, illustrative regulations were developed that were issued to the Social Security Committee, and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, of the Scottish Parliament in December 2017. These were also shared, with a request for feedback, with the FEA Reference Group and through the Social Security Newsletter. On finalisation, these draft regulations were opened up for wider consultation. The consultation opened on 17 May 2018 and ran for fourteen weeks.
The consultation was open to all interested stakeholders and, to ensure that it was as accessible to as broad range of interested parties as possible, a number of alternative response mechanisms were put in place. This included options to respond in writing via the Scottish Government’s online consultation hub Citizen Space, by post or email, through interviews (either face-to-face or by telephone) or through group sessions, where individuals could speak directly to researchers about their experiences and views on topics covered in the wider consultation.
A total of 41 separate responses were received, 34 (83%) on behalf of organisations and 7 (17%) from individuals. All of these were received in writing, either directly via Citizen Space, or by email to the Scottish Government.
All respondents who contributed written responses were asked to submit a Respondent Information Form (RIF) alongside their consultation response, indicating if they were willing for their response to be published (or not), either with or without their name. All but two respondents indicated they were content for their response to be published, and 26 (63%) were content for their name to be disclosed.
In addition, a consultation event was organised with the Scottish Ethnic Minority Older People Forum, attended by 85 people from different faith, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The forum recognised their stakeholders had an interest in the new Social Security Scotland provisions, and specifically in the new FEA benefit. The event provided an opportunity to ensure the views of ethnic minority older people were heard within the FEA process at policy, legislative and delivery stages. Eight individuals contributed partial written responses on feedback sheets while attending the event and these, alongside written summaries of round table discussions held on the day, were included in the analysis.
The consultation included 14 questions. The first three questions focused on whether the draft regulations would meet the specified policy intentions as well as views on any perceived unintended consequences of the regulations or gaps in the proposals. The consultation also asked more focused questions on the application process, eligibility and communications linked to the administration of FEA. Finally, respondents were asked to consider any impacts of the proposed changes on individuals and businesses.
All but two questions had both a closed question component asking participants if they agreed/disagreed with the proposals as set out, as well as allowing respondents an opportunity to elaborate or provide reasons for their closed response. The two open questions related to impacts, and invited free comments.
All responses were read and logged into a database and all were screened to ensure that they were appropriate/valid. None were removed for analysis purposes.
Closed question responses were quantified and the number of respondents who agreed/disagreed with each proposal is reported below. Comments given at each open question were examined and, where questions elicited a positive or negative response, they were categorised as such. For most of the questions, respondents were also asked to state the reasons for their views, or to explain their answers. The main reasons presented by respondents both for and against the various specific proposals were reviewed, alongside specific examples or explanations, alternative suggestions, caveats to support and other related comments. Verbatim quotes were extracted in some cases to highlight the main themes that emerged. Only extracts where the respondent indicated that they were content for their response to be published were used. Responses to each of the questions are summarised below, in the order that they appeared in the consultation document.
Narrative feedback from respondents is presented alongside a summary of the number of respondents who agreed or disagreed with each of the questions, or who provided substantive responses to the more general questions. Raw numbers are presented alongside percentages, for ease of interpretation although percentages should always be interpreted with caution, since they relate to small actual numbers of responses. Due to the small number of responses received overall, it was also not appropriate to provide disaggregated analysis by respondent ‘type’ e.g. individual, voluntary sector organisation, funeral industry response, etc. As a guide, where reference is made in the report to ‘few’ respondents, this relates to three or less respondents. The term ‘several’ refers to more than three, but typically less than ten.
It is also important to note that the way in which the consultation questions were asked introduced some inherent bias into the findings presented here. While respondents were asked to indicate their overall agreement/disagreement or support for different proposals, only those who disagreed or provided no support were asked to explain why. The Scottish Government framed questions in this way as, while supportive comments in relation to the regulations were welcomed, the key reason the questions were asked was because it was keen to identify any potential issues with the regulations so Scottish Ministers could consider if they could be improved.
This means that there is a negative bias in the data, with most of the feedback offering negative sentiments or justifications against the proposals. While some who did support the proposals set out in the draft regulations chose to offer some open-ended explanation as to why, this was not encouraged by the wording of the questions. While the findings presented below may, therefore, highlight mostly the perceived gaps or weaknesses of the draft regulations, it is important to remember the large numbers of people who supported the proposals too. Indeed, all but one question attracted more positive than negative responses when considering the closed responses only.
Despite most respondents being willing for their names to be published alongside their response, a decision was made to anonymise all responses in the final reporting. Similarly, where verbatim extracts have been included in the report, these have also been anonymised. A full list of responses with affiliations is published separately by the Scottish Government.
Finally, while the number of responses to the consultation was encouraging, and engagement in the wider consultation activities was also strong, it is important to remember that this report presents only the views of those who contributed, and should not be considered as representative of the wider stakeholder population, nor should they be generalised too broadly. There will, inevitably, be a wide range of responses to the proposals set out which may never be captured by a consultation exercise of this kind as some people choose not to engage. That being said, every effort was made to make the consultation as accessible as possible, and so the views reflected here do provide a rich summary of what some of the main responses to FEA are likely to be in the wider stakeholder community.