MPs have launched an urgent inquiry into bereavement benefits and “funeral poverty”, as new figures show a shocking rise in the number of so-called “paupers’ funerals”.

Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, by local BBC radio, show that the cost of “paupers’ funerals” to councils has risen almost 30% to £1.7m in the past four years alone.

The number of public health funerals – as paupers’ funerals are properly known by – carried out by local authorities for people who die alone, or those without relatives able to pay, has also risen by 11%.

MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee have even heard from people who say they’ve been denied their relatives ashes after being unable to pay for a funeral.

Relatives who cannot afford the cost of burying a loved-one can apply for financial support from the Social Fund, but money is released retrospectively and may not necessarily cover the full cost of a funeral.

Support may also available in the form of the Widowed Parents Allowance, which can help a parent left to raise a child or children on their own, but many parents are not aware the support exists.

The Committee is interested in hearing about people’s experiences of:

Funeral costs

What are the costs of a funeral, and how does this compare with payments from the Social Funeral Fund?

  • Do funeral homes offer less expensive funeral options for people on low incomes?
  • Could improvements be made to the application process for Social Funeral Fund payments?
  • What is the impact on families and individuals when they cannot meet the cost of a funeral for a friend or relative?
  • What is the impact on funeral homes and directors when the cost of a funeral cannot be met?
  • What arrangements do Local Authorities have for Public Health Funerals? Have LAs seen an increase in Public Health Funerals and what is the cost to LAs?

Bereavement benefits

  • What is the level of awareness about bereavement benefits, amongst those who may be eligible to claim?
  • Are bereavement benefits targeted at those who need them? Should eligibility criteria be reviewed?
  • Are there any problems with how bereavement benefits will interact with Universal Credit?
  • Is communication and guidance about bereavement benefits sufficient?

People can submit written evidence to the bereavement benefits inquiry.

This article contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.