Lifting the burden of death certification fees

In 2014 the average cost of a funeral in Scotland was 3,240. Picture: Sandy Young
In 2014 the average cost of a funeral in Scotland was 3,240. Picture: Sandy Young
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New law makes funeral planning easier, writes Logan Steele

We’ve all experienced that moment, when an older relative exclaims that they won’t be here for long and the profound discomfort that moment affords.

Death is an uncomfortable subject, and rightly so. To be supported by the ones that we love is a profound human need and to contemplate a time without them is something many of us choose not to do.

Few of us would relish the chance to hold an open conversation about what is yet to pass, yet “funeral poverty” is of increasing concern to policymakers as rising costs push more and more people into debt.

The national funeral funding shortfall now stands at a record level of around £131 million, so it’s a matter that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

At Age Scotland Enterprises we’re starting to see a shift in attitudes with more people willing to confront the practicalities of taking matters into their own hands and planning ahead. While a sensitive matter, taking steps to plan ahead can be a very positive and life-affirming process.

In 2014 the average cost of a funeral in Scotland was £3,240 – this number still surprises many people. This cost is set to rise year-on-year.

In addition to this, many people are unaware of the other costs associated with the moment a family member passes away.

Research has shown that the largest increases in costs are found in the basic, unavoidable fees linked to holding a funeral in Scotland. These include funeral directors’ costs, doctors’ fees, ministers’ fees and burial or cremation costs.

It is heart-breaking to hear stories of families who are already struggling financially and unable to pay these costs, consequently accruing large debts to meet this expenditure.

With the Death Certificate Reform and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 having been passed through the Scottish Parliament, it was welcome news when it was announced that doctors’ fees for these certificates are no longer required to be paid in Scotland.

From now on, whether referred to a doctor or a coroner, the costs for certifying the death will be paid for by the Scottish Government.

These changes have now had an effect on our approach to funeral planning too. As a result of this new legislation, Dignity Caring Funeral Services, the provider of Age Scotland Enterprises’ Funeral Plans, has removed the cost for a doctor’s medical certificate from its fees.

Indeed, this process has prompted a number of other changes to its plans. For example, plan prices will now be reduced by £160 following the removal of the Doctors Medical Certificate and all customers who have bought an applicable Age Scotland Funeral Plan held with Dignity will be offered a refund for that amount.

It’s the right thing to do.

In essence, this means that around £640,000 will be refunded to those who have bought an applicable Age Scotland Funeral Plan through Dignity in Scotland.

We have shared our thinking with the Funeral Planning Authority in a bid to help formulate a model for the industry in the future. It is hoped that others will follow suit, being more transparent and reducing confusion around “hidden” costs for consumers.

Enabling people to make the most of later life means ensuring older people in particular have access to the relevant information and products that will allow them to do just that.

Central to this is clarity and simplicity – I hope the industry as a whole will take this on board.

At Age Scotland, our goal is to create a Scotland where everyone can love later life and this includes how we talk about the end of life. To give families the financial security with funeral-planning allows them to focus on what matters most, celebrating the life of our loved ones.

Logan Steele is general manager of Age Scotland Enterprises

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