Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group minutes: April 2016

Minutes of the Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group meeting held on 27 April 2016.

Attendees and apologies


  • John Birrell
  • Simon Cox, Royal London
  • Paul Cuthell, NAFD
  • Kieran Falconer, Quaker Social Action
  • Mr Mazhar Khan, Muslim Council of Scotland
  • Kirsteen Macleod, Low Income Benefits Unit, Scottish Government
  • Dorothy Ogle, Low Income Benefits Unit, Scottish Government
  • Bill Stanley, ICCM
  • Fraser Sutherland, CAS
  • John Urquhart, COSLA
  • Glenda Watt, SOPA
  • Mark Willis, CPAG
  • Stewart Wilson, CRUSE


  • Salah Beltagui, Muslim Council of Scotland
  • Jim Brodie, SAIF
  • David Hilferty, Money Advice Scotland
  • Colin Hunter, Renfrewshire Council
  • Heather Kennedy, Quaker Social Action
  • Bryan Kerr, Church of Scotland
  • Caroline Pretty, NHS Lothian
  • Claire Tucker, NHS Health Scotland
  • Richard Meade, Marie Curie
  • Graeme McAusland, Funeral Planning Authority
  • Garrick Smyth, COSLA

Items and actions

1. Discussion on policy questions

1. The meeting provided an opportunity to take views from stakeholders on the issues that had arisen so far in work to develop policy options for a replacement benefit to the DWP’s Funeral Payment. In particular, the discussion focused on:

Relationship to the deceased

2. We discussed the difficulties inherent in determining who is in an appropriate relationship to the deceased to receive a payment, the experience of applicants and some “hard cases”. We discussed the possible implications of basing entitlement to the benefit on the financial situation of the deceased rather than that of the applicant.

Issues arising were:

  • To act as a true safety net for people who have not managed to provide for their own funeral, it shouldn’t matter who takes charge of the funeral
  • The need to consider options if the deceased is a child who would not be on benefits, though child funerals are often not charged for.
  • The need to consider a threshold cut off point for savings?
  • If someone had not taken up the benefits that they were entitled to, would they still be entitled to the FP?
  • Would this create a disincentive for the individual to take responsibility for their own funeral?
  • Could we combine both with a tiered system, looking first at the deceased first and then the family?
  • The commitments in the Funeral Poverty Report (funeral bond, pre-planning for your own funeral) are about the deceased taking responsibility then the payment should also focus on the deceased.
  • This option would deal better with situations where the person responsible for the funeral is vulnerable e.g people with dementia, under 18s.
  • We would need to be sure that the funds go to the person who is paying for the funeral, for example by requiring a funeral director estimate for a decision in principle.

3. If we continue with existing criteria, the process could be improved by shortening the form and only asking detailed questions when the case justifies it. It would also help if there was some guidance or definition of estrangement which is not currently well understood.

Cross-Border issues

4. We talked about how the arrangements for determining whether applications should be made for the Scottish or the UK benefit. Points included:

  • Any definition has to be agreed with DWP so there is no confusion and no one falls through any gaps.
  • Normal place of residence for the deceased is the most obvious choice but there are exceptions
  • E.g. normal residence could be in Scotland but live in a care home/hospice in England, this also has ramifications across LAs ie main residence is in Glasgow but gets moved to a care home in Edinburgh to be near family then Glasgow would continue to pay for their care – would this incur out of area costs?
  • If a funeral is held in England, we will need to have payment arrangements in place for Funeral directors/LAs.
  • What about repatriation, for example people who have moved to the UK but die on a visit to their home country, without travel insurance. Will the payment consider these costs?

Qualifying Benefits

5. We talked about options for establishing that an applicant is on a low income and whether there are other options apart from qualifying benefits.

  • Tell us once only asks about the deceased, there may be an option to ask for information about the person responsible for the funeral i.e Are you on a qualifying benefit or, is your income below XX. This could feed in to a decision in principle.
  • Make use of other data sources – eg. health data
  • Could include Council Tax Reduction as a qualifying benefit – this could potentially capture people who fall out of the system due to the changes with Universal Credit.

Fixed Grant

  • Any fixed grant would need to cover the cost of a basic funeral and be indexed for it to work.
  • There would not be any obvious losers from a fixed grant, as long as the value was set at or above the existing maximum payment. Some people would be better off.


  • We need to be clear up front about whether an amount included on the form will be deducted or not
  • Where it is a loan or contribution from family or an employer, it is not appropriate.
  • If the grant does not cover the cost of an affordable funeral, it is not appropriate to deduct the value of partial funeral plans or insurance policies as these represent the contribution of the deceased. Deducting them could result in disincentive to save.

Who Do We Pay?

6. We discussed whether there is any advantage in splitting payments so that LAs receive their payment direct rather than through a funeral director.

  • If payment is split between LAs and FDs/families LAs may not want to confirm funeral arrangements until they have been paid – they would expect fees to be paid upfront. Could cause further delays.
  • FDs would welcome not having to pass on payment to LAs as it reduces their exposure.
  • Large LAs could have more issues with this than smaller LAs as they carry out more funerals. Could trial this, minimum of 2 LAs one large and one small.
  • Families currently have no contact with LAs so who would they liaise with? – would need to agree with LAs how this would work.

Application Window

  • The current 3 month limit is not long enough, should be extended to 6 months to allow people time if they are grieving or sick/in hospital themselves.

2. Feedback on actions from the meeting on 14 March 2016

Action Update
The Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty is starting to look at the funeral wishes document. Please send any examples you are aware of to John Birrell. John has not received many and would still welcome any examples you may have.
National Conference SOPA has logged their interest. If your organisation would like to contribute to resource the conference organisation or if you know other organisations that might, please get in touch and we can keep a log of interest.
Links between the provisions in the Burial and Cremations Scotland Bill and the proposed new wishes form Policy officials have indicated that the hierarchy in the Bill would only come into effect if the deceased had not specified who they would wish to organise their funeral.
The unit on Rites of Passage in the national curriculum at secondary school level Education Scotland have agreed to look at the points we would like to cover to see if it would fit into the curriculum as prompts for teachers to enable them to start a discussion. Action: If you are interested in working on a product can you let me know.
Explore the potential for data from the Voices survey to form part of our evaluation The SG Analysts are looking at the Voices survey and couldn’t immediately see where relevant questions would fit but will consider this further in developing qualitative measures for funeral poverty. We discussed the evaluation process being developed to assess the impact of the new payment. This is a larger piece of work and will be included with the work being carried out for all the powers that will be devolved and will include the facility to extract information specific to Funeral Poverty.
Any opportunities created by the community empowerment act. As part of asset transfer the Act allows for a community group to request to own, lease, use or manage land and buildings belonging to public authorities, including local authorities. More info here if you need it: There is a consultation in progress at the moment which closes on 20 June. There is no power in the Act to ‘hand over’ land. A local authority can already do that if it wishes to do so and if there is a community body willing and able to take on ownership or management.
SG will add CPAG to the list Mark Willis has agreed to represent CPAG

7. In response to the Funeral Poverty in Scotland Review:

  • The SG team has had a discussion with selected group members to explore the funeral bond option and they have agreed to offer thoughts on feasibility/options.

  • Letters have issued from the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners Rights to:

i.The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) (Recommendations 3 & 4);
ii. Baroness Altmann (Recommendation 12); and
iii. The Law Society (Recommendation 14) – Confirmation of receipt has been received and they are going to provide a fuller response once they have looked into the issue.

  • John Birrell confirmed that the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty had written to all LAs regarding their costs, they have received 4/5 responses so far.

  • We have met with policy colleagues responsible for the Credit Unions and have set up an initial meeting with the Credit Unions to explore their potential role.

3. Discussion on messages for raising awareness

Grateful if you could have a look at the document and provide any feedback to

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