HC Deb 23 April 1996 vol 276 cc189-90
9. Mr. O'Hara

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent changes have been introduced to the social security funeral payments fund scheme; and what effects these will have for those bereaved who have need to claim support for funeral expenses. [24677]

Mr. Roger Evans

The scheme introduced in June 1995 covers the reasonable costs of a dignified funeral where someone has good cause for taking responsibility but has insufficient funds to meet such a large expense. The allowable costs provide up to £500 for the funeral director's charges, plus all the necessary disbursements for either a burial or a cremation.

Mr. O'Hara

Does the Minister recognise that £500 is not enough to fund a decent funeral? The funeral directors association, in a wide-ranging survey of 658 of its members, found that the lowest cost at which a funeral could be provided was £568 and that the average cost was £700. Is that not the final indignity inflicted on the destitute by the Government? Is the Minister not ashamed of that? Will he give a commitment to the House urgently to review funeral costs and the arrangements for funding them through the social fund?

Mr. Evans

The social fund is paying for one out of every 10 funerals, which is an enormous market share. The cost of funerals financed by the social fund has increased substantially, from £18 million in 1988–89, to £63 million for the year before the one in which we reformed the scheme. Funeral directors were charging fees that were rising considerably faster than inflation. The reformed scheme gives the funeral director a reasonable rate of remuneration, and ensures that the deceased's family can elect for a burial—which generally costs much more than a cremation—if they so wish and that the cost of it will be met in full.

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