The Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2024: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2024

4. Deductions

4.1 Assets in the deceased person’s estate

Regulation 11 of the principal Regulations has the effect that no one can be entitled to FSP if the deceased person’s estate is deemed to include “available and sufficient” funds to cover the cost of a funeral, unless the deceased person was under 18. In practice, Social Security Scotland will refuse applications if there is £8,000 available in the estate. Although the allowable costs of some funerals may come to more than £8,000, under the present rules a relative on a low income could be faced with having to find money to make up the shortfall. Draft regulation 2(5) removes regulation 11 from the principal Regulations, with the effect that applicants will no longer be automatically disqualified from FSP on the basis of the deceased person’s assets.

Instead, in accordance with regulation 14(1)(a) of the principal Regulations,1This regulation is itself amended by draft regulation 2(7). the maximum possible award in respect of the funeral will be calculated and any available funds in the estate deducted from the actual award. The amount that can be awarded in respect of some funerals will be £0, because the available funds exceed the amount of the Funeral Support Payment award, but organisers of funerals where £8,000 or more is available from the estate will now be entitled to some support if the allowable costs of the funeral are greater. Draft regulation 2(7)2Amending principal regulation 14 makes some changes to the detail of how deductions are to be calculated, removing the previous requirement that the assets must be available without confirmation having been granted or without probate or letters of administration.

Since an individual must receive a qualifying low-income benefit to be eligible for FSP, they will by definition have limited disposable income. To require them to find money to cover funeral costs because the estate’s assets exceed an arbitrary figure is of questionable compatibility with principle (e).3Principle (e): The Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland. The limitation of awards to what is necessary to cover reasonable funeral costs by regulation 13(1) of the principal Regulations should be sufficient to prevent abuse of the new rules.

4.2 Funeral plans

The maximum award of FSP is the sum of three elements: reasonable costs for the arrangement of the funeral, a flat-rate payment (normally £1,257.75) and specified transport costs.4Regulation 13 of the principal Regulations. Currently the flat-rate payment element is reduced to £153,50 where the deceased person had a pre-paid funeral plan. Draft regulation 2(6)(e)5Amending regulation 13(6)(a) of the principal Regulations. stipulates that the lower flat rate will only be awarded when the funeral plan or similar has been paid for in full prior to the death of the deceased person. Otherwise, in accordance with draft regulation 2(7)(d),6Inserting new regulation 14(1)(d) into the principal Regulations. whatever contribution the funeral plan makes towards funeral and travel costs will be deducted from the FSP award. SCoSS notes that this seems to be a fair approach.

4.3 Other deductions

Regulation 14(1)(b) of the principal Regulations provides for deductions from an award of FSP reflecting payments due from sources including insurance policies, burial clubs and occupational pension schemes. Draft regulation 2(7)(b) amends this rule to clarify that only payments from an insurance policy in the name of the deceased person are to be deducted. This appears to be uncontroversial.

Observation 2: SCoSS welcomes the proposed changes to the rules on deductions from Funeral Support Payment awards, including the removal of the provision barring awards of Funeral Support Payment on the basis of the deceased person’s assets. Collectively these should enhance Funeral Support Payment’s role in protecting people in receipt of low-income benefits from the cost of arranging a funeral.

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