The last time I met with the Scottish Older People’s Assembly, ably chaired by East Kilbride’s own Tom Berney, there was much discussion about the cost of funerals and the lack of transparency around how these costs were calculated and fixed.
This followed lots of discussion in our Parliament and an excellent report by Citizens Advice Scotland, commissioned by the Scottish Government. CAS took evidence from across the country and I know that East Kilbride’s CAB will have taken a great interest in this as their volunteers and staff are constantly fighting the corner for East Kilbride residents.
In the year 2016 the basic cost of burial fees, not including undertaker charges, increased on average by 8% to £1,373 and cremation charges increased by an average of 11%! This causes a lot of anxiety as everyone wants to show respect to loved ones who have passed and celebrate their lives along with those who knew and cared for them.
That anxiety is understandable when you note that for those on state pension, it takes seven months of their pension income to pay for the average funeral. For those on Jobseeker’s Allowance it takes a year of benefits! Citizens Advice Scotland also noted that 10 per cent of people struggle to pay the cost of a funeral for which they are responsible. So, they often go into debt or try to have ‘less of a funeral’. Both of these options can cause much distress, at the hardest of times.
The Scottish Government undertook to improve this situation, having previously taken some steps towards this. They are determined to do this. The Certification of Death (Scotland) Act 2011 removed the doctor’s fee from cremation costs, which resulted in a saving of £170 for bereaved families. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act requires local authorities to publish and display their fees so that they are easily accessible. Recently, in partnership with local authorities, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, removed child burial and cremation fees.
Now a consultation has been launched to tackle ‘funeral poverty’. It calls on Funeral Directors to publicise low cost options when it comes to laying loved ones to rest. It calls for Funeral Plans to be presented in easily understood language, noting that some of the language used can be confusing for people at times of grief and anxiety. Funeral Directors are also urged to agree “common descriptors” so that prices can be compared, with price lists easily available on paper and on the internet.
The consultation also calls for crematoriums to bear in mind whether a person can afford to pay for a funeral when discussing options. In that regard Funeral Directors should offer a clearly priced simple funeral that includes handling the necessary documentation, a coffin, transportation of the deceased, care of the deceased before the funeral, provision of a hearse and the opportunity for a ceremony at the crematorium or cemetary.
The consultation runs for 12 weeks, so please, if you wish to respond to the proposals in it, let me know and my office can send you the electronic link or a hard copy – whichever is best for you.
I know this is a hard subject – a really difficult situation that many, many of us have faced, or will face, at some time in our lives. It should be made as stress-free as possible.
Related to the above, the Scottish Government will take over the UK Government’s Funeral Payment in Scotland benefit next year. It will invest over £3 million each year to widen eligibility for Scotland’s own Funeral Expense Assistance benefit.
In closing, and with local reference, I know that some East Kilbride residents have found it distressing to have to travel outwith the town to register the death of a loved one. We are a town with a large population, we have a Civic Centre in the middle of our town – it is indeed time that East Kilbride had a Register Office, with daily opening, back in operation. Cllr Hugh MacDonald and colleagues are already working on this – I am sure that they will get the backing of all of us.