HC Deb 01 November 1996 vol 284 cc286-7W
Mr. Faber

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to review the provision of social fund funeral payments. [2550]

Mr. Roger Evans

Major changes were introduced in June 1995. I have been monitoring their effects. Expenditure has been significantly reduced from £63 million during 1994–95 to £49 million during 1995–96.

I now propose to develop the scheme further. From April 1997, help will be targeted more precisely on those most in need and the scheme will be made simpler. The proposed scheme will allow up to £600 for funeral expenses. The allowable items will no longer be specified leaving the person responsible for arranging the funeral free to decide which elements should be included. Certain disbursements— for example burial or cremation costs—will be paid in addition to the capped amount. Likewise, provision will be made where additional costs are likely to arise in exceptional circumstances, for example transportation costs for distances in excess of 50 miles. Under the proposed changes, both the person responsible for making the funeral arrangements and the funeral director will have a clearer understanding of the level of help available from the social fund.

In addition, a new test will help the adjudication officer to decide if it was reasonable for the person to have taken responsibility for the funeral expenses. In a case where there is no surviving partner, where a parent, son or daughter of the deceased exists, and neither they nor their partner are in receipt of a qualifying benefit it will be considered unreasonable for the person receiving the qualifying benefit to take responsibility for the funeral expenses.

Discussions have been taking place with funeral directors' associations at regular intervals and the proposed changes will be discussed with them shortly.

These proposals will be submitted to the Social Security Advisory Committee.