Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group minutes: September 2016

Minutes of the Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group held on 29 September 2016.

Attendees and apologies


  • Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities
  • John Birrell, Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty
  • James Blackburn, Scotmid Funerals
  • Andrew Brown, Co-operative Funeral Care
  • Lucy Coulbert, Coulbert Family Funerals
  • Lynn Cunningham, Dundee Funeral Services Working Group
  • Paul Cuthell, National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)
  • Ewan Dow, Ewing (Kelty) Funeral Directors
  • Tony Foster, Foster Funeral Directors
  • Fran Hall, Good Funeral Guide
  • Monica Jamieson, Scottish Government
  • Kirsty LeGrice, Scottish Government
  • Mandie Lavin – National Association of Funeral Directors
  • Kirsteen Macleod, Scottish Government
  • Mike McCollum, Dignity Funerals
  • Dorothy Ogle, Scottish Government
  • Cheryl Paris, Scottish Government
  • Mark Porteus, SAIF
  • Garrick Smyth, COSLA
  • Fraser Sutherland, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS)
  • Ronnie Wayte, Golden Charter
  • Nick Wilcocks, Your Funeral Choice

Items and actions

Second Round Table Discussion on Funeral Poverty Overview of Issues and Planning Ahead

1. Welcome

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for their attendance.

The Cabinet Secretary outlined that:

  • There were some interesting points raised in the first discussion and she was pleased that some people have been able to attend again to give continuity.
  • The issues are sensitive and, while there are always differing perspectives, its positive to be able to air these differences with a view to moving forward to solutions.
  • The output from this work will be a better understanding of the “system” that a bereaved person has to navigate and where the failings in that system are. This will help the Scottish Government (SG) structure a funeral costs plan to tackle funeral poverty
  • While the SG will be working on the FP and the funeral bond outlined in the manifesto, the funeral industry and local authorities in particular will need to contribute to this work.
  • The third sector, social enterprise and credit unions are involved and are seen as part of the solution.

2. Presentations:

The NAFD presented on the point of view of the funeral industry:

  • NAFD is working with SAIF on this and is delighted that the SG are taking a proactive approach to assessing the FP
  • A pre-eligibility check is a must, the current system leaves funeral directors pen to bad debt. Earlier decisions on awards will mean an opportunity to guide people to better choices.
  • The system needs to be more effective, with a simplified application process, a 5 day processing time and an increase the capped amount.
  • The policy on releasing the FP on receipt of a Funeral Director (FD) invoice needs to be addressed. Closing the invoice prior to the funeral in order to submit the application prohibits the client from changing their mind – restricting choice.
  • A standardised funeral would restrict choice there needs to be flexibility to accommodate different cultures/faiths
  • Standards have to be set and upheld – costs cannot be the deciding factor. Many businesses are not in trade associations and cannot meet the basic standard, which needs to be addressed.
  • FDs are committed to being transparent with clients about all costs and provide support where needed, it is not in their interest to accrue bad debts.
  • The FP must be a real support to people on low incomes. The funeral profession will create a national framework for a simple funeral, flexible enough to provide geographic cover. We must all work together to put the bereaved first.

Citizens Advice Scotland read a short description of a bereaved person’s experience.

3. Discussion

There was an open discussion, led by the Cabinet Secretary, during which the following points were made:

Funeral Payment

  • There is a need to simplify the eligibility criteria in order to have a pre-eligibility check.
  • Estrangement is a difficult issue - the process of asking a bereaved person about their families set up is inconsistent with dignity and respect, the SG we will need to work closely with bereaved to advise us on this.
  • There are several difficult cases that will need to be provided for e.g. couples who have been separated for a long time but not divorced. If the deceased is in another long term relationship this is discounted if the spouse is still alive
  • There would be benefits from FDs being able to act on behalf of clients when dealing with the Social Security Agency to apply for a FP. There needs to be a clearly defined route of access for either individuals or the FD to speak to someone directly who can advise them and progress of the claim.
  • While online application is less likely to be the chosen application method for the applicant, it could be a good tool for a funeral director or other service working with a bereaved person.
  • If a decision was made in principle within 24/48hrs, essentially there would be no need for a deposit, FDs could eliminate this and there would be no delay.
  • However talking a deposit can serve a purpose as it leads to a conversation on what the budget is, how someone is going to pay and how much they have committed to spend.
  • LA invoice terms are 14 days and often their costs have to be paid prior to the funeral taking place, this is one reason why deposits are asked for. A quick decision would ensure that paying these fees on behalf of clients would not result in a bad debt for the FD as they would only pay if the client was receiving the payment.
  • If the FP is going to pay for actual costs as the DWP payment does, some scrutiny of the validity of those costs is needed.

A Scottish funeral descriptor

  • There is plenty of provision for a simple funeral but no consistency in order to aid comparison. The funeral industry and others need to work together to decide what a simple funeral is. This would be a simple, respectful framework which sets out the key elements of a funeral which are considered essential. Other elements would be additional.
  • While there are differences in custom across the country, there was consensus among attendees that the key elements of a funeral would include:

    • Removal of the body (out of hours may be additional)
    • A simple coffin
    • A hearse direct to the crematorium
    • Professional Fees
      Viewing, dressing the body, disbursements etc are not included.
  • Having this framework established would help to create a normal starting point, for managing expectations for people choosing a funeral on a low budget, help in making cost comparisons between providers, for example on comparison sites, and be helpful in development of the funeral bond.

  • Some of the highest growth in costs in the last year has been in the cost of additional items and services such as flowers or funeral catering. These are also areas where some action could be taken.


There was a discussion about the implementation of the Burial and Cremations (Scotland) Act, inspection and potential licencing of funeral directors. The SG policy team outlined that licencing will be independent. An inspector will be appointed to map out the current picture and develop recommendations for the SG. This is a consultation process and will involve the funeral industry.

  • There was a debate about unacceptable standards and emerging business models, for providing services for example businesses run from home, making use of storage facilities elsewhere. While views differed on whether this was a problem, it was agreed that it is important for the customer to understand who is caring for their loved one and the nature of the service provided.
  • Inspection or licencing may provide an opportunity promote market transparency, for example by checking on publication of prices or provision of quotations.
  • There was some concern that small firms might not meet the standard set if it is set too high, resulting in less choice for consumers.
  • Licencing standards need to be fair and proportionate, but also needs to identify those who are not operating within these standards and close/impose a penalty on those businesses.
  • Oversight needs to be independent rather than self-regulation by trade bodies.
  • It is important that SAIF/NAFD are consulted at every stage. There is also a need to consult those who are not members of the trade organisations or their views will not be represented.

Social Enterprise Funeral

  • Craigowl has joined up with the University of Dundee and set up a small advisory service. They found that it is the deposit that prevents people from arranging a funeral. They have put together a working group and are in the early stages of looking at the possibility of providing some form of Social Enterprise funeral service in Dundee.
  • It was suggested that the funeral industry could make a contribution to tackling funeral poverty through corporate social responsibility budgets.

Direct Cremation

  • Crematoria are seeing an increase in direct cremation. This year’s Royal London report on the cost of dying identified this as a separate service for the first time and found that it already forms around 5% or the market.
  • The growth in availability of this option was welcomed as a lower cost alternative.
  • There will be 2 possible case studies for large scale direct cremation provision in the near future. Perth Crematoria is only conducting committals for 20 weeks due to refurbishment, similarly in Falkirk. This may have an impact on the local culture, if families get used to a separation of the celebration of life from the disposal.
  • A wholesale move to direct cremation would create a capacity issue in public mortuaries, in England, there have been some examples of charging for public sector storage for a body after a certain number of days.


  • The average time between a death and the funeral is now 16 days, an issue that has been explored by the UK cross party working group. Some of this is due to having to make appointments with Registrars to register the death, this can sometimes take up to 2 days. Some crematoria have increased their service slots from ½ hour to 45mins/1hour so there are fewer funerals carried out per day.
  • With families living further apart there are often requests to delay the funeral until all family members can attend.

Summary Points:

  • The discussion was positive and attendees were committed to bringing about change.
  • It was agreed that the detail of the Scottish FP needs to be developed through engagement and joint working so that the issues of the DWP payment are designed out where possible.
  • The development of a descriptor for a Scottish funeral would have a number of potential positive uses, including promoting market transparency.
  • There are shifts in the funeral market, some of which are positive and some of which cause some concern and require monitoring. Inspection and potential licencing of funeral directors has a role to play here but engagement is needed to ensure that there are not unintended consequences.
Back to top