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Funeral payment scheme "outdated" say councils

The Local Government Association has criticised the “outdated, confusing and time-consuming” Funeral Payment scheme.

An LGA survey of councils in England & Wales says that many more cash-strapped families are turning to their councils to ask for public health funerals, than three years ago, with councils stepping in to provide almost 3,000 last year for people with no next of kin willing or able to pay.

The organisation blamed the Funeral Payment scheme’s 25-page application form and slow processing time, saying: “Families often can't get the money through quick enough to pay upfront deposits to funeral directors, which would then allow the process to begin".

It also said the fact that the scheme had not been updated since 2003 caused problems as, although it covers burial or cremation costs, it provides only up to £700 for ‘other expenses’, such as funeral directors. In many cases, it added, this was no longer enough and families often then found themselves with little alternative than to approach their council.

The Government has already announced a review of the Social Fund and the LGA is calling for it to update and streamline the Funeral Payment as soon as possible. According to the Department of Work and Pensions, in 2008/09 only 41,000 of the 69,000 claims for Funeral Payments were successful.

The estimated total cost to councils for public health funerals was more than £2m in the last financial year, with an average cost per council of £3,900, and the average cost per single funeral of £950.

David Rogers, chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said that while many public health funerals were for homeless people who died alone, or pensioners without family, others were for "well loved" people: "Their family have fallen on hard times and are struggling financially,” he said.

“The last thing a grieving relative needs is extra stress over whether they're going to be able to pay for and organise the funeral of their loved one.”

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