Work and Pensions Committee opens inquiry into bereavement benefits

By agency reporter
April 11, 2019

Three years ago, the Work and Pensions Committee reported on the “opaque, outdated” and inadequate state support for bereaved people. The Committee had particular concerns about the operation of the funeral industry – based on which the Competition Markets Authority has since opened an investigation. 

The Committee was also deeply worried about what the Chair described as the “profound injustice” that sees bereaved, unmarried parents denied support for their children that is granted to a parent who has lost their spouse.

In its 2016 report, the Committee concluded that:

  • Social Funeral Fund Payments (SFFP) no longer covered the cost of a simple funeral. The Committee recommended that the Government set SFFP to the cost of a simple funeral, at a level agreed with industry, which Government would cover for people who are eligible.
  • Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) – which replaced Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance in 2017 – should be paid over 18 months rather than 12. Ending it at 12 months means ending it at the anniversary of the bereavement, already a difficult time.
  • BSP should be extended to bereaved parents who were not married to their partner; who cannot currently receive it. The Committee concluded that not doing so unjustly penalises innocent children, who have no say in the matter of whether their parents were married but who are equally affected by the death of one of them.

Six months ago the Supreme Court ruled on this last aspect, finding it incompatible with human rights law as its discriminates against the both the unmarried parent and their children. But the Government has yet to act to bring its policy into line. 

At the time of that ruling, Committee Chair Frank Field said: “The victims of this archaic policy are children, and the reform we suggested in 2016 might have cost nothing. It is quite incredible how the Government continues to resist righting this profound injustice, dismissing the Committee’s recommendations two years ago, fighting a grieving single mum all the way to the Supreme Court and even now, every day, telling another five bereaved parents that, because they weren’t married, their children will be penalised. The Select Committee will be taking up the cudgels to see this one family’s victory spread to all eligible families.”

The Committee is therefore launching a new, follow up inquiry, two years on from the implementation of Bereavement Support Payment. It will look at how the new benefit it is working in practice, and press the Government on its progress in responding to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, after it failed to respond to the Committee’s previous concerns. 

In light of the CMA investigation into the funeral market, and the Treasury’s recent consultation on whether the pre-paid funeral market should be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Committee will also be looking at what progress has been made on its previous recommendations to tackle funeral affordability.

The Committee would like to hear the public's views on the following questions. People can respond as individuals, or a group or an organisation.Any or all of the questions may be answered. The closing date for submissions is 17 May 2019.

  • Is the new bereavement benefit (Bereavement Support Payment) working well?
  • How well has the Government done at explaining and promoting when people are eligible for the new bereavement benefit?
  • Do people who are eligible for Bereavement Support Payment find it easy to claim? 
  • What should be done to support bereaved parents who were not married to their partner, who aren’t currently eligible for the Bereavement Support Payment?
  • Should entitlement to bereavement benefits be given to children, but claimed by the parents?
  • What can be learned from other countries’ bereavement benefits systems?
  • Has any progress been made on the Committee’s previous recommendation that the Government and industry agree the cost of a simple funeral?  

* Make a written submission to the inquiry here

* Work and Pensions Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/

[Ekk/6]

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