The Department for Work and Pensions has recently announced changes in the application process for the Funeral Expenses Payment, the means-tested state benefit which contributes to burial or cremation fees and some other funeral-related costs.
Following QSA’s evidence-based lobbying, the changes will speed up payments for bereaved families.
We are very pleased that the DWP has announced it will process Funeral Expenses Payment claims when applicants provide an estimated funeral date. We have often seen the previous requirement for a confirmed funeral date, combined with the fact many funeral directors will not provide one without a deposit or upfront payment of third party fees, create a catch-22 situation for bereaved people where they are unable to move forward. Not only will this change hopefully make things quicker and enable people to get some upfront funeral costs covered, but it will relieve a great deal of distress and anxiety for bereaved people at a very difficult time.
Around 800 Funeral Expenses Payment claims are received each week by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Bereavement Support team. This new move to speed up the Funeral Expenses Payment process is in addition to a recent change in the evidence required to process a claim: instead of a final invoice – which is usually received after the funeral – families can instead supply a funeral director contract as an indication of funeral cost. This evidence can be submitted to the DWP’s Bereavement Support team in advance of a funeral, enabling earlier access to financial support.
QSA’s Down to Earth team, which provides a range of practical support for people struggling with funeral costs around the UK, is in daily contact with DWP – both receiving referrals to our service from the Bereavement Support team, and helping people to complete Funeral Expenses Payment claims.
Over the past year QSA has been calling for reform of the Funeral Expenses Payment, including highlighting the catch-22 situation described above, through dialogue with DWP’s policy department and DWP Minister Will Quince MP. In the last 12 months the Down to Earth team has also submitted evidence and views to the Treasury ahead of the autumn 2018 budget, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) which is investigating the funeral industry, and the Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) as part of its inquiry into support for the bereaved.
QSA’s views are founded on casework evidence from our Down to Earth service – cases such as John (not his real name):
John, whose brother had died, was told by DWP that he needed a confirmed funeral date before he could apply for the Funeral Expenses Payment.
He approached two funeral directors, neither of whom would provide a funeral date until he paid third party costs upfront – over £750 for cremation – and one required a £1,500 deposit. John could not afford these upfront costs. John explained this to the DWP’s Bereavement Support team, who reiterated that a confirmed funeral date was required to process the benefit claim.
John continued to bounce between DWP and a third funeral director, with DWP staff appearing unable to understand why he could not obtain a confirmed funeral date, and the funeral director requiring upfront payment before providing a date.
Eventually John went ahead and made his Funeral Expenses Payment application over the phone. His application was rejected because he did not have a confirmed funeral date.
Eventually John found a funeral director who would go ahead without a deposit, and his second Funeral Expenses Payment application was successful, supplemented by a charitable grant which the Down to Earth team helped him to apply for.
Once it is implemented, the DWP’s announcement should ensure that the specific difficulties experienced by John and other Down to Earth clients will be mitigated in future.
QSA continues to call for:
- The Funeral Expenses Payment to be increased
We believe that the Funeral Expenses Payment should be increased to cover basic funeral costs. We’re calling for the amount of money available for ‘other funeral expenses’ (including funeral directors’ fees) within the Funeral Expenses Payment to be raised in line with funeral cost inflation in recent years, and then to be increased annually in line with the retail price index. We believe this is necessary because, as the CMA has found through its investigation of the funeral industry, funeral prices have risen at twice the inflation rate over the last 14 years. However the ‘other funeral expenses’ element of the Funeral Expenses Payment has been capped at £700 since April 2003. In 2017-18 the average total payment for successful Funeral Expenses Payment applications was £1,461 (DWP Annual Report by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Social Fund 2017-18), around 34% of the average cost of a funeral (£4,271 in 2018 according to Sun Life).
- Simplification of the Funeral Expenses Payment eligibility criteria
We would welcome changes to simplify the eligibility criteria to make them less confusing for applicants, reduce the chance of incorrect advice from DWP advisers and reduce the number of applications turned down. In Scotland the benefit is due to be devolved to the Scottish government as Funeral Expense Assistance; the Scottish government has simplified some of the eligibility criteria for this benefit (it will still be means-tested) and we would welcome a similar approach to the Funeral Expenses Payment.
- Access to government budgeting loans to be improved
The eligibility criteria for government budgeting loans for funeral costs should be brought in line with eligibility for the Funeral Expenses Payment, and the decision making process sped up, so that more people struggling with funeral costs are able to access this interest-free form of financial support in a timely manner.