Work and Pensions Committee chair slams Government over bereavement payment inconsistency

22/10/2019   //   No Comments

The Work and Pensions Committee today reports on the impact of the Bereavement Support Payment, introduced by the Department for Work in Pensions in 2017 to provide financial support to widows under retirement age immediately after their spouse’s death.

The Committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, pulls no punches when it comes to criticising the Department for the fact that cohabiting couples remain ineligible for the payment, which comprises a one-off lump sum of up to £3,500 and 18 subsequent monthly payments ranging between £100 and £350.

He said: “Cohabiting families have been waiting 14 months for the Government to make up their mind following their defeat in the Supreme Court. It is risible for Ministers to claim that ‘cohabitation is a complex concept’ while applying it when it suits them in the rest of the benefits system. All the while, suffering is heaped on suffering for bereaved children. The Government has allowed this terrible injustice to go on far too long: it must make it right, and urgently.”

At SAIF, we agree with Mr Field that this inconsistency in eligibility needs to be addressed urgently and brought into line with other areas of the benefits system which treat cohabiting couples in the same way as married couples.

Children are often the most acute victims when it comes to the lack of access to this support and no child should be penalised because of the living arrangements of their parents.

We also welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the Bereavement Support Payment’s claim period should be extended beyond three months.

Funeral directors know well from experience how much a person can be affected by the loss of a spouse or partner at a young age and can see how easy it would be for someone to miss out on this essential support.

Interestingly, the report features research by the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN). The findings are unsurprising but a cause for reflection all the same.

The CBN surveyed 326 Bereavement Support Payment recipients and found that nearly seven out of ten people had used the lump sum to pay for the funeral or to clear other debt.

That so many should spend this on their loved one’s send-off demonstrates further the inadequacy of that other bereavement benefit, the Social Fund Funeral Payment, which is capped at £700 and is supposed to cover the cost of a coffin, funeral directors’ fees and funeral transport. This needs addressing too.

For our part, as a leading funeral profession trade association, we will continue to ensure our funeral director members are aware of the Bereavement Support Payment so that eligible families in their care apply in time.

The Work and Pensions Committee’s Bereavement Support Payment report and its full set of recommendations can be read here.

Find a SAIF Member