Attendees and apologies
- Bryan Kerr, Church of Scotland
- Eileen Cawley, Scottish Pensioners Forum
- Ellie Wagstaff, Marie Curie
- Jane Matheson, Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty
- Joanne Wakeley, Age Scotland
- John Halliday, Community Renewal
- Lindesay Mace, Down to Earth, Quaker Social Action
- Natalie McQuade, Association of British Credit Unions
- Nick Britten, NAFD Scotland
- Simon Cox, Funeral Solution Expert
- Susan McNaught, Cruse Scotland
- Stephanie Millar, Citizens Advice Scotland
Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland Attendees
- Jasmine Wood, Scottish Government Policy (Chair)
- Brendan McGinty, Social Security Scotland Communications
- Ciara Mccormack, Social Security Scotland Communications
- Emma Mcginlay, Social Security Scotland National Stakeholder Engagement
- Michelle Rumgay, Scottish Government Policy
- Barry Pattison, Scottish Government Policy
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The chair welcomed attendees and asked for introductions.
Funeral support payment policy update
Michelle Rumgay gave an overview of the Funeral Support Payment (FSP) evaluation and highlighted areas that worked well as well as areas for improvement and how the Scottish Government are addressing issues raised in evaluation.
Take-up for FSP during 2021-22 is estimated to be 66% but some people make provisions for own funeral. The most recent SunLife report estimates 59% of people make sufficient provisions for their funeral.
Processing times – Social Security Scotland is committed to give people timely decisions. Although challenges occur during spikes in demand, processing times are a priority for Social Security Scotland. FSP is generally welcomed by people but doesn’t always stop the need for borrowing. It should be noted that FSP is designed to contribute towards costs, not cover all costs. In 2023/24 we raised FSP in line with inflation.
Accessibility features – applications are available in 100 languages, easy-read, large print and the application process works with assistive technologies. Social Security Scotland is looking to reduce duplication to streamline the application process.
FSP Policy team is monitoring progress towards longer term outcomes. We will be carrying out some targeted user research and we will be reaching out to the reference group for this.
Funeral support payment regulations
FSP Policy are looking to improve FSP to make it as fair as it can be and ensure that legislation is aligned with policy intent and Social Security Scotland guidance. Proposed changes include the removal of the local authority cap, potentially extending provisions for funerals abroad, reviewing the definition of funeral and regulations in relation to provisions held in the deceased person’s estate. FSP Policy are currently in the policy development phase and cannot make guarantees at this stage regarding amendments to regulations. We will be looking for contributions from the group for views on changes and Impact Assessment work
Funeral directors would like to know if cases have been submitted to Social Security Scotland or not, while being mindful of data protection issues. Funeral directors would like to know if an application has been submitted or not.
The client will always have a choice and in majority of cases makes payment to the funeral director. There is an option for the client to change their mind and the client will always have this option. We engage closely with funeral directors. We ask clients if we can contact funeral directors directly to get information, but we need client permission to discuss their case with a third party.
A further point that was raised is that some funeral directors are refusing to work with clients in receipt of FSP as the funeral director is unsure if they will receive a payment. Funeral directors do not want to take people to the small claims court. It has been suggested that a small tweak to the aspect on paying the funeral director directly can make a difference. FSP policy outlined that there is no intention to make any changes to the current system and we want the client to have a choice on whether they receive the payment or not.
Marie Curie, in partnership with the University of Glasgow, have been involved in the research project Dying in the Margins. The question is what happens after an applicant receives FSP? Is there a cross government working group, bereavement or further financial advice? Is there any help for the financial legacy of death?
Social Security Scotland have a bereavement team which is linked with Tell Us Once. If a client calls, we can ensure advice regarding financial signposting is from one person.
There’s a suggestion very few funeral directors want to work with those in receipt of FSP, with suggestions that some clients have been directed to funeral directors outside their local authority area due to funeral directors not wanting to work with FSP recipients. Would it be possible to use statistics to create a league table for Funeral directors to see who is working with and who isn’t working with FSP recipients?
Most recent statistics show that around two-thirds of FSP are paid directly to the funeral director. Unsure if statistics go into the level of detail regarding how many funeral directors in each local authority are paid.
National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) highlighted that they want to engage and help and support FSP system. Not fair to state that funeral directors will not work with FSP recipients. Members of NAFD will work with bereaved families. One funeral director at cross party group said they will not work with FSP recipients, but this is not normal practice for funeral directors. Funeral directors will always try to work with FSP recipients. NAFD wrote to the previous Minister for Social Security regarding the issue on clients being able to change mind on where payment goes. It is often late in process when an applicant changes their mind, this doesn’t appear to be the standard procedure across all benefits.
FSP Policy will respond to the point raised about procedures for payments across benefits.
Funeral support payment communications and marketing presentation
An overview of the external FSP marketing campaign was provided. This involved a paid for marketing campaign during the winter months encompassing digital, social, radio and out of home marketing with sites based close to larger funeral directors.
Marketing activities also included providing leaflets to stakeholders and articles to promote FSP in births, marriages and deaths section of newspapers.
Comms identify areas such as National Grief Awareness Week and stats publications. A Ministerial visit took place during National Grief Awareness week. These visits help with awareness raising as they sometimes get media interest. Comms promoted the Ministerial visit through social media and the visit represented an opportunity to engage with funeral directors to raise any issues. We cannot always spend on marketing campaigns, but we can work with stakeholders to share messages on our channels.
Comms suggested that further partnership with funeral directors who support FSP applicants for promotional opportunities could be beneficial.
In promoting the Best Start Foods (BSFs) payment, Social Security Scotland established links with the food and retail industries. Comms are looking at the possibly for similar joined working opportunities for FSP and funeral directors. Door is open for mutual promotion opportunities. Comms will be looking to emulate previous work with BSFs for FSP.
No questions were raised in relation to the update on Communications and Marketing.
Any other business
The meeting moved onto any other business, and the following topics and questions were raised.
How are processing times being reviewed? Although there are positives with FSP amount being more than Funeral Expenses Payment (FEP) and being raised in line with inflation, why is it not the policy intention to cover the costs of a simple, attended funeral?
Processing times will remain a priority area to review, sometimes processing times will be longer due to an increase in applications. Stakeholder engagement are currently looking at processing times across all benefits. Aspects such as what supporting information is required and what clients can do to ensure the application process is streamlined are being reviewed. Social Security Scotland are trying to reduce duplication in the FSP application process by trying to get all evidence required during the initial application.
We do not cover full costs as this is not policy intent. We also have to look at Scottish Government budgetary constraints. Since launch we have widened eligibly by 40% in comparison to FEP. The average FSP payment is over £1,800. There is no plan to make a change in relation to covering the full cost of a funeral.
Question - Concern raised around waiting times for a decision on an FSP application with reports that the average waiting time is 4 weeks. NAFD wrote to David Wallace, Chief Executive for Social Security Scotland regarding this issue. The response stated that we aim to deal with applications in 10 working days. The Cross-party group were unhappy with that aspect of the answer. Jeremy Balfour, the convener of the Cross-party group on Funeral and Bereavement, is going to pick this matter up at the Social Security Scotland committee in Parliament.
Answer – Service level agreement is 10 working days from date all information is received.
The meeting finished with the chair outlining that we will send round a minute with relevant contact details, and we will get back on any unanswered points raised today. We will also reach out to group for views on policy work that is ongoing.
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