Good progress made on Funeral Costs Plan
Coping with the death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most stressful things we will ever have to deal with. That’s even more difficult if you are also worrying about how to pay for the funeral.
Most of us will arrange a funeral no more than a handful of times. So it can be difficult to understand exactly what your choices are and how much is a fair price to pay. Information about costs is not always readily available and it can be distressing searching for all the details.
That is why I want the Scottish Government to be at the forefront of tackling the issues around funeral costs and funeral poverty. In 2017 we launched our Funeral Costs Plan, which sets out ten actions we will take during this parliamentary term.
And I believe we have made good progress on the Plan over the last 12 months.
I am particularly pleased with the work we have undertaken with the funeral industry and local authorities to develop our draft guidance on funeral costs. The guidance is aimed at public and private cemeteries and crematoriums, and funeral directors. It sets out steps these organisations can take to improve the availability and transparency of information on charges. Our recent public consultation on the draft guidance showed broad support for measures such as putting prices online and creating a glossary to help people understand the terminology.
We also remain on track to deliver Funeral Expense Assistance, replacing the UK Government Funeral Payment. The new benefit will widen eligibility by around 40% – reaching far more people struggling with funeral costs – and is backed by around £2 million additional Scottish Government funding each year, above that expected to transfer from Westminster.
Last October, as part of our work to encourage people to talk about and plan their own funeral, we gave people more options to record their wishes by creating an interactive version of the planning your own funeral form. This means people can complete it online and send electronically. This was a suggestion that came from our Funeral Poverty and Funeral Expense Assistance Reference Group.
We have also made good progress on other actions in the plan relating to credit unions, social enterprises and encouraging the public to feel more comfortable talking about death, dying and bereavement.
In addition to the actions in the Funeral Costs Plan, the Scottish Government announced in May a joint agreement with COSLA to remove local authority child burial and cremation fees. The death of a child is one of the most heart-breaking things any of us will ever experience and I cannot under estimate what an important step forward this was in order to help parents in such awful circumstances.
Work on the Funeral Costs Plan will continue in 2019. I am looking forward to finalising the guidance on funeral costs in the spring. Before doing this we will publish the responses to the consultation we ran last year and will work with providers to refine the final version. The guidance will help people understand, compare and choose the services that are right for them.
I will also ensure that we continue to work with Joe Fitzpatrick, the Public Health Minister, and the Inspectors of Funeral Directors and Crematoria to ensure the work on funeral standards and costs is properly aligned.
Funeral Expense Assistance will be delivered by summer 2019. We continue to learn from individuals and organisations with experience of the current system so that we can streamline the application process and address the parts that the applicants currently find difficult.
The Scottish Government recognises fully the sensitivities around issue of funeral poverty. I am committed to working with the funeral industry and others with an interest to provide and improve support to bereaved families and make more affordable funeral options available in the future.