The news that the government is unlikely to increase the value of the Funeral Expenses Payment (FEP) will come as a blow to many cash-strapped bereaved families seeking help with their funeral costs.
In an evidence session to the Work and Pensions Committee in July, Will Quince, minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance said this was because many funeral directors are offering low cost funeral packages, such as simple burials and direct cremations, at the £2,000 and £1,200 price points.
However, he said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to review the “other funeral expenses” component of FEP, with a view to increasing its value. This is the £700 sum that the government allocates towards the cost of funeral directors’ fees, the coffin and the funeral flowers. This amount has not risen in value since 2003.
He also added that the DWP had made Social Fund Budgeting Loans and Universal Credit Budgeting Advances available to people in receipt of an income-based benefit such as Pension Credit, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. Although interest-free, these loans have to be repaid and are usually deducted automatically from a person’s benefits.
But with the cost of a basic funeral averaging £3,757 and the average funeral payment award coming in at £1,455 this still leaves grieving families facing a shortfall of £2,000 when organising a simple send-off for a loved one.
There are, however, a number of resources available that could help families arrange a dignified funeral for a much-loved friend or relative without breaking the bank. The trick is knowing where to look for help. But first off, what is the Funeral Expenses Payment and how do you claim it?
the Funeral Expenses Payment
The FEP was set up to help people in receipt of qualifying income-based benefits or tax credits arrange a simple, respectful burial or cremation for a relative or close friend who has died without making provision for their funeral. The FEP is a contribution towards the necessary costs of arranging a funeral.
However, the value of the award, which has not risen in line with inflation, has attracted intense criticism for its failure to cover the true cost of a basic funeral.
The average payment awarded under the FEP scheme in 2017/18 was £1,455, while the cost of arranging a simple funeral is £3,757 according to Royal London’s National Funeral Cost Index 2018. This leaves a person with a funeral payment facing a shortfall of more than £2,000 to cover a basic funeral.
As a result of the gap between the amount awarded and real cost of arranging a funeral, funeral poverty has risen. Financially vulnerable, bereaved individuals are now taking on debts of around £1,744 in order to lay their loved ones to rest, the mutual insurer Royal London said.
The FEP has also been criticised for its lengthy claims process. In July 2019, the DWP announced that it had overhauled and speeded up the claims process so that grieving families will find it easier to get help they need to meet their upfront costs. They will now receive their funeral payments within 15 days of submitting their claim.
In addition, the date of the funeral will no longer be required before a claim is processed and families do not have to provide a final invoice, which is only supplied by the funeral director once a funeral has taken place. Instead, families can now provide the Bereavement Support team with a funeral director contract which provides quotes of the funeral cost along with an estimated funeral date.
Prior to the reform, an FEP claim could not be processed without a confirmed date for the funeral, which led to longer waiting times before a claim was processed, and a final invoice from the funeral director.
An FEP can be used to cover the necessary costs of a funeral such as the burial fees and exclusive rights of burial in a particular plot; the cremation fees including the cost of a GP’s certificate; the cost of moving the body within the UK, if it is being moved more than 50 miles; travel to the funeral; and death certificates or other documents.
The £700 is awarded under the “other funeral expenses” category can cover the cost of the church, the coffin, the funeral director’s fees, and the funeral flowers.
The person claiming an FEP must be either the partner of the deceased when they died; a close relative or close friend; the parent of a baby stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy; or the parent or the person responsible for a deceased child who was under 16 (or under 20 if they are in approved education or training).
The simplest way to claim an FEP is to call the Bereavement Service helpline on 0800 731 0469 or Textphone 0800 731 0464. Welsh Language can be reached by calling 0800 731 0453. Welsh Language Textphone 0800 731 0456. An adviser should be able to tell you about the other bereavement benefits you may also be entitled to. For more details, visit www.gov.uk/funeral-payments.
The new Children’s Funeral Fund
Families living in England mourning the devastating loss of a child will now be spared the stress and anxiety of having to find the money to pay for their funeral at one of the worse times in their lives.
From 23 July 2019, the new Children’s Funeral Fund (CFF) will provide families with the practical support they need to meet the costs of burying or cremating a child aged under 18 or a baby stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy.
Set up by the Ministry of Justice, the CFF aims to reduce the financial burden on bereaved families by ensuring that they will no longer have to pay the fees of a child’s cremation or burial or for a number of other prescribed associated expenses, the government said.
Burial and cremation authorities will instead waive their fees, as these will now be reimbursed by the government, who will contribute a further £300 towards the cost of a coffin.
If the person organising the funeral opts to arrange the burial or cremation themselves, without the help of a funeral director, they will be able to reclaim their expenses from the CFF.
The CFF follows similar initiatives operating in Scotland and Wales. It is not means-tested and is available to all families living in England irrespective of their household income. The residency status or nationality of the deceased child, or of the person organising the funeral will not be relevant in determining eligibility. The burial or cremation must take place in England. For more details, visit the Children’s Funeral Fund.
If you still need extra help meeting the other funeral related expenses such as the funeral flowers, orders of ceremony and plaques, the Child Funeral Charity provides financial assistance to families who have lost a child aged 16 years or younger. For more information, visit www.childfuneralcharity.org.uk.
Other ways to ease the burden of a funeral bill
You can quickly and easily check that the person you are claiming a funeral payment for hasn’t already bought a funeral plan by using the Funeral Planning Authority’s free Trace a Plan service. If your loved one had a pre-paid funeral plan, you will only get up to £120 to help pay for items not covered by their plan. For more details, visit www.funeralplanningauthority.co.uk/contact-us/trace-a-plan.
If you can, opt for a cremation instead of a burial. The average cremation costs £3,311, while the average burial cost is £4,257, according to Royal London estimates. Choosing a less popular time and day, say early morning, midweek, could reduce your bill by around £500. Alternatively, why not opt for a direct cremation and reduce your costs even further?
Direct cremation specialist Pure Cremation charges £1,195 for a direct cremation, a fraction of the cost of traditional funeral. The price covers the costs of a solid wood eco-coffin and hand delivery of the ashes. The firm will also collect and care for the deceased, who are cremated without a service or mourners present. For more information visit www.purecremation.co.uk. For help and advice call 0800 182 2156.
If a recently departed loved one had their heart set on a burial, you should try and shop around using the funeral comparison website Your Funeral Choice. You could save as much as £3,000, as some funeral directors listed on the site can provide a simple funeral for as little as £850. The price includes the cost of a basic coffin, the funeral director’s fees, collection and care of the deceased, and transport to the ceremony. For more details on shaving an estimated 60% off your funeral costs, visit www.yourfuneralchoice.com or call 01983 754387.
Further help with slashing your funeral costs
The charity Down to Earth in Hackney can provide practical support when applying for an FEP or sourcing help from another funeral grant fund. It also provides help to people struggling with funeral debt. Workers from the charity can also help guide you through the process of organising a funeral. For more details, visit www.quakersocialaction.org.uk/we-can-help/helping-bereavement/down-earth/how-it-works.