'Outdated' bereavement benefits require major reform - MPs

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'Outdated' bereavement benefits require major reform - MPs

A committee of MPs has recommended that benefits for bereaved people are in need of "serious reform" to reverse the rising trend of funeral poverty.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee said the fact that many bereavement benefits are only paid if couples are married is "particularly outdated and should be addressed urgently."

The report also warned that the financial impact of bereavement will often last much longer than one year or 18 months.

A recent report from Royal London warned that benefit rules which omit cohabiting couples from certain Bereavement Benefits are costing £82 million per year in lost benefits. 

MPs recommended for the DWP should adopt a cost-neutral method of extending the Bereavement Support Payment to 18 months through a reduction in the lump-sum payment.

In addition, MPs identified as a result of a "technicality" of the interaction between benefits, the poorest Widowed Parents Allowance claimants are set to suffer a net loss under Universal Credit

The Work and Pensions Committee's report says the UK Government should follow the lead of the Scottish Government and conduct a broad review of burials, cremations and funerals. 

The Work and Pensions Select Committee launched this inquiry into bereavement benefits following growing public concern.

Average awards for the Social Fund Funeral Payment (SFFP), the main benefit available to bereaved people on low incomes where there are no other resources available, now only cover around 37% of the price of an average funeral.

A cap of £700 was placed on the benefit for ‘other necessary costs', including items like a coffin and hiring a funeral director. This has not been increased since 2003.

Over the past five years 1.6 billion people have borrowed money to pay for a funeral, with 1.2 million people borrowing a total of £576 million from payday loan companies.

The Committee recommended that Government negotiate a reasonable cost for a simple funeral with the funeral industry and increase the cap on the SFFP to reflect this.

The Committee also state that whilst the government safety net has been eroded, the price of funerals has increased dramatically, and vulnerable bereaved people aren't always best served by the market.

In 2015, Royal London found that funeral director charges had risen by 4.9% since 2014, at a time when inflation was 0%.

The Committee has passed the evidence they received on the funeral industry to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Heather Kennedy, campaigns manager from Quaker Social Action's Fair Funerals campaign said: "We welcome today's report which is the first time politicians have got together and tried to understand the reasons why so many people can't afford a decent send ofWe now urge the Department of Work and Pensions and Baroness Ros Altmann, the Minister responsible for bereavement benefits, to implement these recommendations in full.

"In the context of steep funeral inflation, an aging population and growing public concern around funeral poverty, we hope to see the UK Government now take meaningful, sustainable action to ensure everyone has access to a dignified funeral."

Further reading

Bereavement benefits: Couples face £82m ‘living together penalty'

Ministers launch inquiry into Bereavement Benefits

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