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First major inquiry into funeral poverty for decades

The news of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Select Committee into funeral payments has been widely welcomed by all sectors of the funeral world.

It’s the first major inquiry of its kind for decades and will include a close look at the Social Fund Funeral Payment, which gives some people on low incomes some help with the costs.

It coincides with news that the number of public health or so-called ‘paupers’ funerals has risen by 11% in the past four years, with the cost to local councils up almost 30%.

The Social Fund Payment has, controversially, remained at a maximum of £700 for 10 years, despite costs having risen substantially, and it now covers only 35% of the cost of the average funeral.

The process is also regularly criticised for being overly complicated and slow. Applicants have often had to commit to a funeral package without knowing if their application will be successful. More than half of all applications are turned down.
This leads to financial problems, both for the applicant and, potentially, for the funeral director too.

The NAFD and the anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action (QSA) are among those who have been clamouring for action on the imbalance. The latter says funeral poverty has increased by 50% in just three years.

The Work and Pensions Committee is inviting submissions, looking at the impact of funeral poverty and for recommendations for improvement to the application process for Social Funeral Fund payments.

It is also looking at the rising costs to local councils of public health funerals. Research across 436 councils, revealed by a Freedom of Information request, shows they carried out 2,580 public health funerals in 2013-14, out of the 500,000 or so in the UK each year.

After some costs were recovered, the cost to councils for those funerals was £1,719,329 - an increase of 28% in the past four years.

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