Falkirk Council to look at reducing funeral poverty

Falkirk Crematorium.
Falkirk Crematorium.

Falkirk Council has pledged to look at how it can help people who are unable to pay funeral expenses avoid the heartbreak of giving their loved one a pauper’s funeral.

Grangemouth Councillor Allyson Black brought a motion to the council’s executive on Tuesday, asking that the council looks at how it can work with local undertakers to offer a funeral service that enables grieving relatives to say goodbye whilst keeping costs to a minimum.

Cllr Allyson Black

Cllr Allyson Black

Councillor Black said: “With more people struggling to make ends meet, this is going to be an issue that faces more people.

“Funeral poverty is on the rise and at a time of severe heartache and stress, we need to ensure that all is done that can be done to enable relatives to say their final farewells.”

Councillor Black made the plea after hearing the story of a family in the neighbouring council area of Stirling who struggled to pay for their mother’s funeral – only to be faced with their father dying just months later.

The family was forced to give their father a pauper’s funeral, which meant the state paid for the service but no-one was able to attend.

The case prompted Stirling Council to make changes to its bereavement services and it now offers a reduced-cost burial, in collaboration with local undertakers.

Councillor Black’s motion asked the director of development services, Rhona Geisler, to look into the issue and report to an executive meeting within three months.

Councillor Paul Garner, the SNP Group’s spokesperson for Environment, asked that this be extended to six months as a national funeral expense scheme is currently being introduced.

Councillor Garner said: “What can’t be ignored is that Falkirk’s funeral interment costs are amongst some of the lowest in Scotland.

“Stirling Council currently charges £1107 in comparison to our £607 – a difference of £500.

He also pointed out that Stirling Council currently only has burial facilities, while Falkirk Council has cremation facilities.

“We have only recently offered direct cremations which offers a significant reduction in cremation costs and as such helps assist funeral poverty,” he told the meeting.

“This choice has been taken up 74 times in its first year compared to 72 in nine years for national assisted funerals.”

Councillor Garner said he was happy to support Councillor Black’s motion but asked that the director be given six months to bring the report as it may involve changes to work practices, staffing levels and external contracts with funeral directors.

He added: “The effect on staff and existing priorities cannot be underestimated and would mean changing priorities.

“It is therefore respectfully requested that, in the interim, the best targeted assistance to those who need most assistance with funeral poverty is achieved through our existing service and the emerging Scottish Government funeral expenses plan.”

Councillor Black agreed that it was sensible to wait until after summer to see the impact of the new assisted funeral payments.

She said: “Falkirk Council has a good record but I think we could do more. As Universal Credit kicks in more people will really be struggling. It would be good to see if we could help more.”

“It’s not just for people facing pauper’s funerals – there seems to me to be a wide gap between a pauper’s funeral and £5000, which is the average cost of a funeral.”