Action promised over 'funeral poverty'

Funeral Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The report found that the cost of burial plots and cremations varied widely across the country

The Scottish government has unveiled a series of measures aimed at helping to ease "funeral poverty".

The move was in response to a report that found many low income families had no funeral plan or savings in place.

More than 1,000 funerals take place in Scotland every week, with the average cost now more than £3,500.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil said families could be taking on "unmanageable debt" to bury their loved ones.

The report on funeral poverty was compiled by Citizens Advice Scotland on behalf of the Scottish government.

Range of prices

It said action must be taken on funeral costs, which were continuing to rise above inflation.

The report also highlighted the wide range of prices set by local councils for burial plots and cremations and recommended councils reduce or limit charges .

In 2015, the cost of a lair in East Dunbartonshire (£1,527) was more than three times the cost of one in East Renfrewshire (£414), it said.

Other recommendations in the report included:

  • Bereavement support should be more widely available
  • Social security funeral payments should meet the real costs of a funeral
  • Funeral directors should be fully licensed
  • People should be encouraged to talk about their own funeral wishes with their families
  • A new 'Scottish Funeral Bond' should be created to standardise costs and allow more people to save for their own funeral

Its author, John Birrell, said: "I am increasingly concerned that if action is not taken bereaved relatives are going to experience more and more distress and I hope the suggestions made in our report will go some way to mitigate this."

In response, the Scottish government said it would speed up the decision time on funeral payments after it received the powers through the Scotland Bill.

It will also organise a national conference on funeral poverty, and consider the funeral bond scheme.

Lower cost options

Mr Neil said: "We know funeral directors will want the best for their customers and we plan to work with them and others to explore the recommendations in the report, including whether services could be offered through a Scottish Funeral Bond scheme. This could help unlock lower cost options for people who choose them.

"Our new powers over funeral payments will give us the opportunity to set up a benefit which is simpler and more streamlined.

"Speeding up the application process will help bereaved people know if they will receive a funeral payment, and we believe it will create more certainty for funeral directors, allowing them to give appropriate advice and potentially eliminating the need to take a deposit from those who make a successful application."

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