Attendees and apologies
- Joe Murren, Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF)
- Eileen Cawley, Scottish Pensioners Forum
- Gerry Boyle, Dignity
- Brian Corrigan, CRUSE
- Heather Smith, Age Scotland
- Julie Dunk, Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM)
- Bryan Kerr, Church of Scotland
- Lindesay Mace, Down to Earth, Quaker Social Action
- Linsay Taylor, Interfaith Scotland
- Mark Willis, Child Action Poverty Group
- Nick Britten, NAFD Scotland
- Natalie McQuade, Association of British Credit Unions
- Wendy Thomas, NHS Lothian
Scottish Government attendees
- Lynn Forsyth (Chair)
- Debbie Silver
- Gemma Wilson
- Jennifer Pert
- John Mowbray
- Jonathan Wright
- Michelle Rumgay
- Sohel Ahmed
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed attendees and asked for introductions.
The Chair asked for reflections from the group on current issues and the following themes were raised:
- funeral poverty hasn’t gone away – COVID-19 pandemic effects on job security, furlough, increased unemployed and sudden unexpected deaths has made things very difficult for people
- Funeral Support Payment (FSP) has been successful – payment times are a good improvement on the old DWP payment
- people haven’t been able to grieve properly due to COVID-19 restrictions on funerals –several people raised their concerns about the longer term effect on mental health, CRUSE and Down to Earth both said they are working with much greater numbers of people compared to this time last year
- one member commented based on its UK wide experience that FSP is still not enough – and suggested that the flat rate element should be raised to cover the cost of a simple funeral
Social Security Scotland
Jennifer Pert from Social Security Scotland provided an update on FSP – covering the key elements of FSP and advising the new rates from the beginning of April 2021 after uprating is applied for 2021 to 2022. Between 16 September 2019 and 31 December 2020 FSP payments have totalled £11.3 million, supporting over 6,700 bereaved families. The current average FSP payment is around £1,778. Online and telephone remain the primary channels for applying for FSP. Applications have been received from all local authorities with the highest number from Glasgow City followed by North and South Lanarkshire.
Between 16 September 2019 and 31 December 2020, 57% of applications were processed within 10 working days. Around 77% of applications were processed within 15 working days, whilst 23% took 21 days or more to be processed. The group asked why 23% of applications were refused and the Chair confirmed that this is something statisticians will be looking at.
The group raised concerns around rising local authority burial and cremation fees. The Chair confirmed that these fees were a matter for the locally elected councils, who are autonomous bodies. The Chair also clarified that FSP claims will now be paying actual costs rather than average costs which should see more clients having their full costs covered, as long as they are reasonable.
Funeral Support Payment evaluation
John Mowbray from Scottish Government Communities Analysis Division updated the group about the evaluation of FSP that will be done this year. He gave a broad overview of the data sources for the evaluation which will be Management Information, Social Security Agency data, existing survey data (internal and external) and qualitative research with clients who had received FSP as well as some third sector organisations.
The evaluation will consider the client & stakeholder experience in terms of the application process, how payments are used and the impact of receiving FSP and how it helps clients face the financial challenges encountered when arranging a funeral. This essential evaluation work will provide insight into policy outcomes at granular level and will lead to policy improvements.
Waiver of child burial and cremation fees
Debbie Silver from Scottish Government Funerals and Early Years Benefits policy team updated the group to confirm that the Scottish Government and COSLA agreement to waive fees would be extended for a further three years, and would be widened to include waiving fees for babies where they have been stillborn.
The group highlighted that existing Universal Credit (UC) claimants don’t have to wait until the end of their current assessment period to be able to claim FSP, but new UC claimants have to wait five weeks until the end of this period before they can claim. This makes things difficult, particularly as the client maybe claiming UC because their partner died.
The group brought up local authority funerals and said they thought minimum standards should be set and details should be on council websites. The Chair confirmed responsibility for this lies with the Burial and Cremation team.
The Scottish Government Funerals and Early Years Benefits team will be reviewing the Funeral Costs Plan and the next meeting will cover wider funeral poverty issues.
Next meeting to be in six months.
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