Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group minutes: October 2016

Minutes of the Funeral Payment and Funeral Poverty Reference Group meeting held on 5 October 2016.

Attendees and apologies


  • Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities
  • Martin Birch, Cardiff City Council
  • John Birrell, Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty
  • James Blackburn, NAFD
  • Lynn Crothers, The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS)
  • Lynne Cunningham, Dundee Funeral Services Working Group
  • Audrey Hardie, East Dunbartonshire Council
  • Monica Jamieson, Scottish Government
  • David MacColl – LA Benchmarking Framework
  • Frank McCool, North Lanarkshire Council
  • Robert McCulloch, East Ayrshire Council
  • Cllr Harry McGuigan – COSLA Spokesperson Community Well-being
  • Neil McIntosh, Stirling Council
  • Kirsteen Macleod, Scottish Government
  • Jim Nickerson, Association of Private Crematoria and Cemeteries
  • Dorothy Ogle, Scottish Government
  • David Robertson, Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Andrew Scobie, Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Garrick Smyth, COSLA
  • Bill Stanley, Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management
  • Andy Summers, Highland Council
  • Fraser Sutherland, Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Nicola Sutherland, Perth City Council
  • Justin Venton, Midlothian Council
  • Kate Woodthorpe, University of Bath

Items and actions

1. Welcome

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

The Cabinet Secretary outlined that:

  • She was pleased to see such a broad range of interests represented.
  • There was good progress in the first two discussions and she was pleased that some people have been able to attend again today to give continuity.
  • The SG will be looking in particular to local authorities to work with us as we have a shared agenda on funeral poverty. LAs have a role in tackling poverty and there are implications for other LA services, for example national assistance funerals, burial and cremations, debt advice.
  • This agenda will become more pressing in the next few years due to the rising death rate. This is a good time to come together to work out what we can do.

2. Presentation on the Cardiff Funeral by Martin Birch, Cardiff City Council

  • The Cardiff Funeral is a partnership with a local funeral director. It isn’t a public health funeral service, or the type of funeral where someone chooses not to pay or no family to make the arrangements.
  • The FD costs are fixed at £1,030 plus cremation costs which bring it to £1708 in total, with no hidden extras. It is a professional service through a local funeral director, available to any resident.
  • There are no qualifying criteria except residence and the funeral service is the same as any other so there is no stigma. National Assistance funerals are available for people who cannot pay.
  • Cardiff Council undertakes a tender exercise to procure the service and actively promotes it to residents through websites and leaflets e.g. via hospitals and GP surgeries.
  • The contract is let initially for 2 years with an option to extend for a 3rd.
  • The FD carries the risk or default at lower margins than for some other funerals. This may be a barrier to FDs tendering. Only 1-2 FDs bid each time and the last tender had to be re-issued outside Cardiff in order to generate interest at an acceptable price.
  • Usage is increasing year on year. In 2015 12% of 2,700 funerals that took place in Cardiff were under the contract.
  • It is not a profit making exercise for the Council, they contribute in kind by undertaking the procurement exercise, contract management and publicity. Overheads for this are low.

3. Discussion

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

National Assistance Funeral

  • There was a discussion about the “Unmarked” report by Citizens Advice Scotland and the rise in requests for national assistance funerals which is seen as an indicator that an increasing number of people are not able to afford the cost of a funeral.
  • While overall numbers are still low, there has been a significant rise in percentage terms and there is some evidence that more people are requesting a national assistance funeral for financial reasons.
  • There is a lack of data in some areas as not all Local Authorities collect the numbers of requests or reasons why a National Assistance Funeral has taken place. It was agreed that if this information was going to be used then an effort would be made to record this data.

Work under way in LAs

  • East Ayrshire Council confirmed that they have looked at the Cardiff model and have drawn together a draft proposal, possibly linking in with the national assistance funerals by seeking a fixed price for both.
  • Glasgow City Council has also been looking at lower cost options and provides a direct cremation service.
  • Approaches are being shared via the Local Government Benchmarking Framework.
  • This group could be a good focus for some future work, including discussions with the SG on development of the FP.

Discussion on the wider roll out of the Cardiff Funeral

There was a discussion about the advantages and barriers to implementing this type of contract. There is one in place in Nottingham and Cardiff but other LAs have attempted to put one in place and it has not worked.

  • Funeral director support is required to make it work.
  • The contract relies on FDs who may have concerns about harming relationships with other FDs if they take on a contract. In Cardiff, the contract had to be re-advertised because the bids from local funeral directors were too high. The current contract holder is from out of the area and has set up a Cardiff based branch to deliver the contract.
  • While it is only a contract let by the Council rather than a directly provided service, people see the funeral as a Council service. This requires a degree of political commitment, for example if there was local pressure not to offer the service.
  • It was pointed out that the risk of default might be increased for these lower cost funerals. Debt recovery practices might have unintended consequences for families.
  • This is a joint challenge and yet is seems to that this service is not a joint challenge as the cremation price has not been dropped, LAs tender and FDs have to drop their costs, debt rests with the FDs and the risk is greater as more people will use this service, the debt may be smaller to the client but someone has to pay.
  • It’s important to be clear about the objectives and role of local government, e.g. is it about their public health responsibility, or is it about poverty and providing people with limited means the opportunity to have a funeral.
  • Risk is an on-going issue. As matters stand, the risk is held by the FD because they carry the full cost of disposal. One option would be to look for a way to share risk between FDs and LAs, possibly by the client having separate responsibility to the crematoria.
  • Need to bear in mind that the majority of Crematoria in Scotland are privately owned. 15 private 14 LA – 2 further private Crematoria have planning permission. Costs at private crematoria tend to be higher.
  • This approach might disadvantage smaller independent/local funeral directors as it would be larger companies that would have the potential to expand to have national coverage.
  • Providing a larger number of funerals at such a low margin would change the way that some FDs run their business, potentially having an impact on the ability to invest in staff training etc in the longer term. Some firms would go out of business or customers who are not provided for through the contract would see increased charges to cross subsidise.

Scottish Funeral

  • It was suggested that the Cardiff approach to funeral procurement might be expanded to a Scotland wide funeral or that a template for a contract could be produced that could make it easier for LAs to take up this option.
  • This would need to be able to accommodate variable disposal costs across providers, LA and private.
  • Further work would be required to see if this could be sustainable and to be sure that this offered a real solution.
  • An open and honest discussion is needed with NAFD, SAIF and other funeral directors to collaborate to produce something.

Variability in Disposal Costs between LAs

  • Cllr McGuigan suggested that the variability of costs between LAs would be discussed at a future meeting, once COSLA has had a chance to explore the issue, gather information and analyse it.
  • The full implications of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act and how that will be implemented are not yet known. There may be an impact on charging policies.

Summary Points

  • There is a real appetite for change in this area, demonstrated by the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016.
  • Some LAs are already aware of the issues and are progressing solutions locally. LAs are also sharing approaches with each other through the Local Government Benchmarking Framework.
  • There is potential in the Cardiff approach and other local solutions. LAs have a key role to play and some coordination is needed to make sure that what is done nationally and locally does not cut across each other.
  • LAs hold a lot of data, for example on national assistance funerals, which may be useful in identifying issues and tracking progress. While LAs are not in a position to collect and hold data where there is not a clear need, they would be receptive to looking at what data it makes sense to collect for national monitoring.
  • Further work is needed between SG and LAs to consider these issues and the development of the Scottish FP.
  • COSLA will consider variability in costs between LAs before progressing the discussion further.
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