Written evidence from Quaker Social Action (BVB0042)

Increasingly for people on low incomes, the cost of a funeral far exceeds a person’s ability to pay. This problem is caused by a range of interrelated factors including funeral inflation, the erosion of state support for bereaved people on low incomes and a lack of consumer awareness and transparency when people buy funerals. To make a sustainable impact on funeral poverty, government must look to the role of other departments beyond the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Cross departmental review

Quaker Social Action and other members of the Funeral Poverty Alliance strongly recommend the DWP initiate conversations with other government departments including the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Department of Health (DofH) and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with a view to conducting an inquiry which examines pressures on local authorities, funeral inflation and the use of burial space.

The Departments and Minister listed below are not meant to be an exhaustive list of who should be involved in cross departmental conversations.

The Ministry of Justice

The MoJ oversee cremations and cemeteries. There is an increasing crisis in the shortage of burial space which is helping to push up the cost of funeral. This crisis could be alleviated by the MoJ following the lead of the Scottish Burial and Cremations Bill (see below). Despite the attempts of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM), the MoJ have yet to fully investigate this area.

Caroline Dinenage MP is the Minister responsible for this area, with a portfolio that includes coroner, burials and cremations.

The Department of Health
There are several opportunities for health services such as hospitals, hospices and GP services to communicate high-quality, neutral information to the public about, for instance, funeral costs and available funds. This information could help people avoid funeral poverty. Currently these opportunities are being missed.

The NHS is increasingly worried about the budgetary pressures relating to the number of public health funerals they’re being called upon to provide. They should be part of the wider conversation about how government interventions can help people avoid funeral poverty.

The DofH also have responsibility for death certification fees and could put plans in place to remove the burden of this service from the bereaved individual, thus increasing funeral costs.

Ben Gummer MP has ministerial responsibility in this area, with a portfolio that includes death certification, end of life care and workforce education.

The Department for Communities and Local Government

The costs charged by local authorities to carry out cremations have risen by a third in five years[i] and costs continue to soar. There are also huge discrepancies in what different local authorities charge, often in a similar geographical area. Many local authorities, increasingly stretched by budget cuts from central government, are no longer subsidising their burial services. We support the view of the ICCM, that without funding from central government, it will become increasingly unsustainable for local authorities to provide burial and cremation services. When figures suggest private crematoria charge the bereaved around 13% more for the same service, privatisation should be avoided[ii]. The DCLG would be best placed to investigate steep increases in local authority charges and wide discrepancies, as well as the provision of public health funerals by local authorities.

Like NHS hospitals, local authorities are also finding themselves having to carry out more and more public health funerals. The numbers being carried out have increased by 11% in four years[iii].

Greg Clark MP is the Minister responsible for this area, with a portfolio that includes the overall leadership of the Department.

Scottish Government responses to funeral poverty

In 2015 Scotland scrapped doctor’s fees for death certification which form part of the bill for a cremation burial and in England cost £164, payable by the person arranging the funeral. Total savings for bereaved families will be is predicted at £5.5 million per year[iv]. Instead, the state covers the cost of death certification, although the intention of the Scottish Government is their changes to death certification will allow them to target NHS resources more effectively.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill[v] was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 8th October 2015 and seeks to provide a modern, comprehensive legal framework for burials and cremations, tackling many of the key factors that combine to produce funeral poverty.

There are currently no particular legal or educational requirements to operate as a funeral director. Industry bodies impose particular standards on their members, but there is little compulsion to meet those standards. Membership of either body is not required to operate as a funeral director. The Bill contains provisions which allow the Scottish Ministers to introduce a licensing scheme for funeral directors. The Scottish Government’s Policy Memorandum suggests that “This power would be used only where it could be shown to provide benefit. It is intended that the industry will be kept under review so that an informed decision can be made in due course.

The Bill seeks to address the increasing pressure on available land for burials in Scotland. This policy will also help support the long-term sustainability of particular burial grounds, as well as the sustainability of burial as an option generally. It is also expected to contribute to the reduction of burial costs. The Bill enables full, partially full and unused lairs to be restored to use in certain circumstances. A lair which contains human remains will be considered potentially suitable for restoration only where the last interment was at least 100 years ago and where the lair appears to be abandoned.

The Scottish Government expects the Bill to “have relatively few costs for key stakeholders”. The Bill seeks to “improve existing procedures rather than introducing new processes, and may result in some minor savings”.

Policy developments in Scotland provide a very useful starting point for government Ministers to explore how the same issues might be addressed in the UK.

January 2016


[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33905444

[ii] RLNFCI 2015/Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM)

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34943805

 

[iv] http://www.thenational.scot/news/scotland-leads-the-way-by-scrapping-cremation-form-fees.2897

[v] http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Tackling-funeral-poverty-1dea.aspx