By Susan McPhee

WHILE nobody likes to think about funerals, there’s no avoiding the fact funeral costs are on the increase, and that families are struggling to afford to lay their loved ones to rest.

Citizens Advice bureaux across Scotland have seen a significant increase in the number of clients struggling to pay funeral costs in recent times, and given the average cost of a funeral in Scotland is in the region of £3,700, the expense can easily push people into financial difficulties and serious debt.

There is a range of reasons that funeral costs are causing problems. For example, currently, families essentially face a postcode lottery, with a wide variety of different burial fee levels from one council to the next – with the difference between some as much as £1,550.

There is also a worrying lack of transparency in relation to funeral directors’ charges, leaving people who are facing the loss of a loved one unclear about what is and isn’t covered in professional fees.

And while there is a UK Government Social Fund Funeral Payment available for those on low incomes and certain benefits, bureau clients frequently tell advisers the application process is complex, confusing and the payment not enough to cover the full cost of a funeral – in many cases leaving claimants with more than £2,000 in costs to pay by other means. The Citizens Advice service in Scotland has been working to raise awareness of these issues for several years, and so we welcome this week’s launch of the Scottish Government Funeral Costs Plan.

We are pleased to see the commitment it sets out to make funerals more affordable, and that the Scottish Government will be working with both local authorities and funeral directors to tackle this issue.

It’s also encouraging that – as well as committing to launch the new Funeral Expense Assistance benefit to replace the Social Fund Funeral Payment by 2019 – the Scottish Government will also work with the UK Government to address some of the other issues people paying for funerals face.

We believe it is critical people have access to consistent, quality advice and information on funerals, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government to make sure the commitments made on this become a reality.

Already we have worked to develop learning resources for those advising the public on planning and paying for funerals, but there is much still to be done to make sure everyone gets the information they need to think ahead, and the support and advice they may need to navigate the complexities of arranging and paying for funerals.

This new plan is a solid step toward making funerals affordable for all in Scotland, and the Citizens Advice service in Scotland will keep working to provide quality advice, to raise awareness of the difficulties people are facing, and to push for changes that help people plan and pay for affordable, dignified funerals.

Susan McPhee is head of Policy and Public Affairs at Citizens Advice Scotland.