Funeral Poverty — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 4:59 pm, 13th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate Mrs Lewell-Buck on her speech and on her work on this issue. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, who very effectively set out the problem that we face. He is a regular attender of the all-party group on funerals and bereavement, and this issue sits regularly on our agenda.

The existing system is not working, the £700 grant is inadequate and only 53% of those applying for a grant are successful. The consequence is that many people are getting into substantial debt. Funeral costs are often unplanned expenditure, and people mostly put it on their credit card. They may go to a mainstream lender, but in some instances they are forced to use backstreet lenders or build up debt elsewhere by borrowing to pay for goods. In some instances, people incur a debt with the funeral director. Of course, one of the funeral director’s roles is to offer a range of prices to families so that they can select a funeral that is appropriate and right for them. Cost is a factor, and the National Association of Funeral Directors has a strict code of practice for adapting funerals to people’s needs and constraints. It is not in a funeral director’s interests to sell a funeral that a family is unable to afford, but funerals are a sensitive time for families and it is not always possible for a funeral director to gather full information about a family’s circumstances and ability to pay. When the bill is finally received by a family, it often comes as a shock. Some funeral directors have put in place their own payment plan to enable bills to be settled over a lengthy period of time, which, in certain instances, leads to debts that the funeral director has simply not been able to recover. The impact on the funeral director, and on the possible costs of other funerals, should be borne in mind.

It is entirely right that the social fund exists, but it needs to be considered. I will take a short moment or two to mention the uncertain nature of the bills that families face. We should have a broader discussion and more openness about the cost of funerals, and greater thought should be given to the options available to people at a much earlier stage in their life. We speak a great deal about planning for people’s old age, and we know that the earlier people start to make such provision, the better. Perhaps people should start thinking about the time that comes post-old age. Instead of funerals being purchased in a very short space of time, perhaps they could build up and plan their funeral for some time.

When I looked into this subject, I was shocked to discover that many schemes are available, but they are not widely promoted, which might be because such promotion is inappropriate. I visited the website of a large national funeral director and discovered that for someone of my age—I was born on 16 January 1957— a basic funeral would involve expenditure of £27.75 a month. It may be that, in the same way as pension provision, if people gave some thought to their funeral at an earlier stage, a big, unexpected bill might be avoided.