Funeral poverty is an increasing reality for many people throughout the UK who find themselves in a position where the cost of a funeral outweighs their ability to pay.
The average cost of a funeral is £3,700. The Local Government Association has stated that there are thousands of people across the UK with no family or friends to arrange, attend, or pay for a funeral. There is an increasing number who have to rely on a national assistance funeral. A national assistance funeral is a statutory responsibility for local authorities, where no funds are available and no arrangements are being made (by the family) for the burial or cremation of the deceased. Recent research by Royal London shows that the cost to local authorities of national assistance funerals in 2017-18 was more than £5million.
According to a Citizens Advice Scotland report in November 2017, the cost of a burial in West Lothian falls below the Scottish average. Year on year price increases for both burials and cremations in West Lothian between 2014 and 2017 fall below the Scottish average rates.
Help Towards the Cost of Funerals
Under the transfer of welfare provision to the devolved government, the Scottish Government is set to replace the current UK wide provision with the Funeral Expense Assistance (FEA) Benefit. This benefit is expected to support an additional 2000 families above the 4000 already supported by the current benefit and will cover the council's costs and a grant of £700 towards other fees, such as funeral directors and provision for transport costs.
West Lothian Council's Registration Service works with the Advice Shop to offer a referral for a full entitlement check to anyone who registers a death. The bereaved person is then contacted by a Welfare Rights Advisor to look into any entitlement to means tested benefits, help with funeral costs and to discuss other financial issues including budgeting and debt.
The Respectful Funeral - Costs and Duration
In establishing a cost for the provision of the service, council staff sought to bridge the gap between the funding offered by the new Funeral Expense Assistance, which supports those on welfare benefits, and the average costs of a funeral, which in Scotland currently stands at circa £3700, inclusive of disbursements such as lair purchase, interment or cremation, whilst seeking voluntary support from Funeral Directors in terms of the sustainability of the model and the potential impact on their core business.
Through discussion, a price of £1550 has been agreed with all five service providers for the services specified as the West Lothian Respectful Funeral Model.
All five Funeral Directors have agreed to hold this price for a period of two years from April 2019, at which point a review of sustainability, cost and continuation will be undertaken.
The Fair Funerals Pledge was developed by Quaker Social Action in 2015 as part of a wider funeral poverty awareness campaign. The pledge asks local funeral directors to:
- Recognise that funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost
- Help people to find funerals that are within their means
- Be open about their most affordable options, including third party costs : - In initial conversations; within their price lists; on their website
Over one third of the UK funeral industry has now signed the pledge and the details of participating funeral providers are included on an interactive map available on the Fair Funerals website. In West Lothian there are currently three funeral directors signed up to the pledge, in Bathgate, Broxburn and Livingston; all under the Co-op Funeral care umbrella. West Lothian Council currently publishes its burial charges on the council website.
Low cost funeral options such as direct cremation, which has no family involvement, is available. However these are likely to be very basic.
The West Lothian Respectful Funeral model will add an element of choice for residents who may find the cost of paying for the funeral of a loved one through the traditional methods beyond their financial reach.
West Lothian Council's charges are currently set at one of the lowest in Scotland at 27th out of the 32 Scottish local authorities. In addition the level of subsidy provided by the council, based on the gap between incomes received through the cemeteries service and the cost to deliver the service, is circa 40%.
Whilst the Scottish Government Funeral Expense Assistance will help those on welfare benefits, it is the aim of the West Lothian Respectful Funeral to provide an opportunity for all residents to reduce funeral costs below the average cost of burial in Scotland which is currently £3700.
A West Lothian Council Respectful Funeral burial will save residents of West Lothian 27% against the Scottish Average, for a cremation this rises to 35%.