Alison Gillies describes a planned new Scottish benefit.
As part of the gradual devolution of certain social security benefits to Scotland, from summer 2019 funeral support payments will replace social fund funeral payments in Scotland. While there will be many similarities between the two payments, there will be a few notable differences. At present, we only have the rules in the form of draft regulations1 and do not have a precise date for the introduction of this new scheme.
Once introduced, funeral support payments will be administered by Social Security Scotland, the newly established agency which administers devolved Scottish benefits.
Like the social fund funeral payment, the funeral support payment will be a one-off payment to help with the costs of a funeral if the claimant is on a low income. The funeral may be of a partner, family member or friend. It may also be the funeral of a child who is stillborn. To qualify for the payment, the claimant must be ‘ordinarily resident’ in Scotland: this term is not defined in legislation but the words should be given their natural and ordinary meaning and a person should be ordinarily resident if s/he is living in Scotland for a settled purpose, for the time being, whether for a short or long duration. The person who has died must have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.
A funeral support payment cannot be paid if a social fund funeral payment has been awarded in relation to the person who has died, or if a funeral support payment has already been awarded.2
Usually the funeral must take place in the UK, although there is an exception for some European Economic Area nationals. The claimant may be able to get funeral expense assistance for a funeral that takes place in a European Union member state, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland if the claimant:3
- is a worker or self-employed, or retains that status; or
- is a family member of a worker, a self-employed person or someone who retains that status; or
- has a permanent right to reside in the UK.
The gateway to entitlement is being on a ‘qualifying benefit’. These are universal credit (UC), income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, working tax credit which includes the disabled worker or severe disability element, or pension credit.4 Usually the claimant has to be getting the qualifying benefit on the date s/he claims the funeral support payment, but if the qualifying benefit is UC, s/he can be entitled if s/he was on UC in either the assessment period in which s/he claims funeral support payment or the one before.
The claimant must have accepted responsibility for the funeral costs and it must be reasonable for her/him to do so. The question of whether it is ‘reasonable’ is something which will be considered by Social Security Scotland, taking into account whether there are any closer relatives of the person who has died and any other relevant factors. Usually, it will be reasonable for the person who has the closest family relationship to the person who has died to take responsibility for the funeral expenses, but there are other circumstances, such as estrangement, which may be relevant and may mean that the claimant is entitled even if there is a closer family member.
In judging whether there is a closer relative, Social Security Scotland will use a ‘table of hierarchy’ which already exists in the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016. The ‘hierarchy’ is an unsurprising list with, for an adult death, spouse or partner at the top and long-standing friend at the bottom, with a range of familial relationships in between.
Whether there is an equally close relative who could have taken responsibility for the funeral cost is not relevant. This is potentially more generous than the social fund funeral payment rules, under which a claimant can be disallowed if there is a close relative who had equally close contact with the deceased and who is not in receipt of a qualifying benefit.5
The funeral support payment will cover the same costs as the social fund funeral payment – eg, the cost of the burial or cremation, necessary documentation and certain transport costs. In addition, it will include a payment of £700 (or £120 if the person who has died was aged 18 or over when s/he died and had a pre-paid funeral plan or similar arrangement in place).6The social fund funeral payment includes an amount of ‘up to’ £700 (or £120) for any other funeral expenses, meaning that the claimant receives less than £700 if the additional expenses amount to less than that figure. Some assets belonging to the person who has died can be deducted from the award (eg, an insurance policy or funeral plan) but not if the person who has died was under 18.7
Once the funeral support payment has been introduced, claims will be administered by Social Security Scotland. It is expected that there will be a choice of ways to claim: online, by phone or using a paper form. Claims will be able to be made from the date the person dies until six months after the date of the funeral. If the funeral support payment is refused during this period because the claimant is not on a qualifying benefit, but is subsequently awarded a qualifying benefit covering the date on which the application was refused, the assistance can be considered again without the need for a new claim.
Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.
- 1. The Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)
- 2. Reg 8(4) and (5) Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)
- 3. Reg 9 Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)
- 4. Reg 10 Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)
- 5. Reg 8(7)(b) Social Fund Maternity and Funeral Expenses (General) Regulations 2005, No.3061
- 6. Reg 13 Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)
- 7. Reg 14 Funeral Expense Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2019 (draft)