Case Study - COVID-19 Questions

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Case Study - Care Homes

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Funeral expenses payment rises

The amount of money that the Government will pay towards a funeral has risen from £700 to £1000 for claims made where the person has died after the 8th April. This change applies to England and Wales under Funeral Expenses Payments and in Northern Ireland as well.

The payment is made to help pay funeral costs, but will not cover all the costs incurred when making funeral arrangements. The amount paid depends on the individual claiming's circumstances and will also be reduced if the deceased had savings or left an estate. Claimants might still have to pay for some or most of the costs themselves.

A maximum of £120 can be paid where the deceased had a funeral plan but certain items weren't covered under that plan.

The money is paid to those who meet the eligibility criteria where the claimant is either partner, close relative or a close friend of the deceased and is in receipt of certain state benefits such as Universal Credit, Income Based Jobseekers Allowance, Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit etc.

The full list of benefits and details of how to claim can be found on the government’s website:

https://www.gov.uk/funeral-payments

For Scotland, the Funeral Expenses Payment has been replaced by Funeral Support Payment. Ths is a one-off payment from Social Security Scotland which helps cover the costs of a funeral for those on a low income. The payment is far more generous at a maximum of £1500.

To receive it, the claimant must normally live in Scotland and must get one of the applicable benefits. The Claimant must have accepted responsibility for paying for the funeral, and must be named on the funeral bill.

To find out more, visit the gov.scot website

For Northern Ireland, guidance and forms are available at the NI direct website


Coronavirus legislation implements swift changes

MP’s are to debate new legislation that will bring in a package of emergency measures to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Whilst the legislation deals with a raft of proposals on public health grounds, medical provision and border controls, it also deals with the possible increase in mortality rates.

The legislation proposes significant changes to the way deaths are recorded, which includes the easing of requirements upon coroners to sign death certificates when other health practitioners aren’t available.

The proposed legislation will also allow funeral directors to register deaths on behalf of families if they are unable to make the arrangements due to being quarantined. Registrars will also be allowed to accept electronic copies of documents to carry out the registration.

The requirement for a second confirmatory medical certificate to be presented before a cremation takes place is to be removed to free up medical staff.

With regards to the “management” of deaths, local authorities will be allowed to streamline their services, which includes increasing the operating times for crematoriums and directing the movement of bodies. This will include co-opting forms not involved in the funeral sector to provide support where necessary.

The National Association of Funeral Directors report, on their website, that they support these changes to legislation, calling on the government to ensure that funeral service workers are key workers. They state that they “believe the legislation, combined with ongoing dialogue at both a national government and local resilience forum level, will enable the funeral profession to properly care…at a very difficult time”.

Some local authorities have already taken measures to protect the public and staff during the outbreak. Several crematoria, including Yeovil Crematorium run by South Somerset District Council, have suspended public facing services during the outbreak. Staff at the Yeovil site will still be operating services and responding to telephone calls and email enquiries, but waiting rooms, offices and chapels will be closed to the public. Cremations will still take place, but all public services will be suspended due to social distancing. Grounds will remain open to the public.

Cllr Peter Gubbins of South Somerset DC stated that “This has been an incredibly hard decision for us to make but the safety of the public and those that operate the site has to be our priority. The risks of continuing to hold public services at this time are too great and we will be working with local funeral directors to ensure they are fully informed. This is not something the council wants to do, nor takes lightly but, given the difficult circumstances, is a sensible course of action.”


DWP announce changes to funeral payments

The Department for Works and Pensions, DWP, announced today, 17th July 2019, that there will be changes made to the way it handles funeral expenses payments, which should help grieving families get help to meet funeral costs.

The press release states that "Previously, a Funeral Expense Payment claim could not be processed without a confirmed date for the funeral to take place, which could lead to longer waiting times for payments to be processed. Today we’re announcing a change, where families will now be able to make a claim with an estimated funeral date, providing that other key information is supplied."

It goes on to add "Recent improvements mean that instead of a final invoice – which is usually received after the funeral – families can instead supply a funeral director contract as an indication of funeral cost. This evidence can be submitted to the Bereavement Support team in advance of a funeral, therefore ensuring earlier access to financial support."

More can be read about the changes on the Governments website - DWP Funeral expenses changes

This change may help local authorities to assist families in making funeral arrangements instead of the Council having to take on those arrangements as a statutory funeral.

David Lockwood, Public Sector Development Manager from Finders International welcomed the move as long overdue and added "this is a positive step forwards but the case remains that many cannot afford a basic funeral for their loved ones and that duty is passed on to hard pressed local authorities, surely it is time for Government to consider a mandatory contribution to National Insurance that pays a sum of money towards a basic funeral for each person?"

Finders International support local authorities in cases where a person dies with no estate and no next of kin via their charitable Funeral Fund. This fund is only open to public authorities to claim fom. Details can be found on the Finders International website here.


Public Health Funerals - Property and Squatters

Several authorities have recently remarked about issues surrounding properties occupied by Squatters when having to undertake a Public Health Funeral.

Since 2012 it has been a criminal offence to squat in residential properties, with a fine of up to £5000 and a six month prison sentence being the maximum fine imposed. Squatting in a non residential property is not illegal, though it is a criminal offence to cause damage to that property.

Advice on the Government Website - Gov.uk - is that anyone who originally enters a property with the permission of the landlord/Owner is not a squatter. For example, if someone is renting a property and falls behind with rent payments they are not squatting if they continue to live there. Seperate legal action under housing legislation will need to be taken.

If a case has been referred to the Council and you go to search a property finding it is occupied you must establish if they have a tenancy agreement. If it transpires that they are squatters, you have the right to demand they leave. Usually a call to the Police for assistance to remove them can be made. Given how stretched the Police are, it may not be treated as a priority. You must not try to evict the squatters yourself, if they refuse to move you have a few options open to you. Apply for an interim possession order if it has been less than 28 days since they were discovered. An authorities legal department should be able to organise this. Once received it ust be served on squatters within 48 hours of being issued by the Court. Once an IPO has been served the individuals have 24 hours to vacate or face prison.

Unfortunately, properties can end up being left in a poor state, should you need help to clear and secure the team at Finders International can assist. For details you can visit the Finders International Website or speak to Finders Property Sales & Service Manager, Saida Abasheikh on 020 3859 4418.

 


New National Assistance for Funerals?

Funding a funeral assistance programme through National Insurance contributions was one suggestion from council officers whom discussed the ongoing issues with Public Health Act Funerals at the Finders International sponsored conference in Birmingham.

Delegates discussed the subject of service provision and what should or shouldn’t be provided by local authorities. It was clear that practices differ across the country with some authorities opting for cremation, whilst others undertake burials. It was also obvious throughout the discussions that council staff care deeply about the service they provide.
The most recent legislation, written in the early 1980’s, only applies to England and Wales with legislation for Scotland dating back even further, to post-war Britain. The current legislation does not take into account social factors or set minimum standards for councils to follow. Officers at last week’s event were particularly concerned about the lack of clear guidelines, and they voiced a desire to see minimum standards introduced, so that there can be parity of service across the country.

Funding for the role is sparse and erratic, and with some authorities reporting that they have no budgets for Public Health Act Funerals, many officers would like to see new legislation that facilitates access to revenue for this important social service.

One of the suggestions discussed at the conference was for a national scheme, funded by increased National Insurance contributions, to pay funeral expenses once a person dies. This would ensure that each individual gets a basic, dignified funeral. This would need to be administered from a national perspective, perhaps replacing the current means tested contributions delivered by the Department for Works and Pension's Social Fund.

David Lockwood, Finders International conference host, said that this “was the beginning of a process for council officers to influence legislation.” He continued, “Finders International will support staff through the process, encouraging other organisations to join in the conversation with councils.” He concluded, “We are committed to helping local authorities as they continue to experience the effects of funding cuts. It’s important that councils get support to provide this often overlooked but vital service, and it is evident that councils across the country implement their statutory duty in a number of different ways…practice is so varied because the law is far too vague.”

Finders have confirmed their commitment to the sector and will hold another conference for Local Authorities in 2020 in London.


2019 PHA Funerals Conference - 2nd May

Presentations from the 2019 Conference

Notes from the discussion on PHA Funerals are on the forum.

 

Tenancy issues - Ramsdens - Tenancies

Coroners presentation - Coroners Presentation

 


CMA to carry out further investigation of Funeral market

The Competition and Marketing Authority have announced that they will be undertaking an "in-depth" market investigation into the Funerals sector.

This follows the publication of its interim report in November 2018 and it's subsequent public consultation as reported on this site in early March. The CMA report that the vast majority of responses were positive but they still have their concerns over the effectiveness of competition. The investigation will focus on the supply of funeral and crematoria services.

A number of large companies responded to the investigation along with many members of the public. The responses from individuals can be read here on the CMA website. Individuals responding noted price discrepancies between crematoria, the practice of charging more to a non-resident, that the information provided on the GOV.UK website was poor, that restrictive practices were in place in certain creamtoria and that GP's shouldnt be charging for Death Certificates.

The CMA's headline concerns included the rising cost of funerals, the vulnerability of people when organising funerals, reluctance of some firms to publish clear pricing and the rise in Crematoria charges.

The investigation will further examine the concerns identified, the CMA has the power to make legally binding orders requiring changes be made. A group chaired by Martin Coleman will investigate. No date has been set for the panel to report back.

More on this can be read on the CMA website.

 


Still referring to the GLD?

Barrister disagrees with legal analysis in Anglia Research Local Authority Report on referrals by Local Authorities to the GLD

Advice obtained by Finders International from Barrister James Neill of Landmark Chambers, finds that:

  • Local authorities have the power to refer details of an individual who has died intestate without known next of kin to probate research company;
  • There is no obligation in any guidance issued by the BVD which requires local authorities to refer unclaimed estates to the BVD

This follows a document published in 2018 entitled "Local Authorities and Heir Hunters: Myths, Misunderstandings and Unintended Consequence". The legal opinion obtained sets out, in detail, why Local Authorities have every right to refer cases to a Probate Genealogy Company, such as Finders International, and that guidance issued by the GLD (Government Legal Department) or BVD (Bona Vacantia Division) does not require the authority to refer cases direct to them.

The document goes on to look at implications for contracts under tendering and procurement legislation and concludes that

  • Any such referrals if made on an ad hoc basis and informally without payment are unlikely to be considered public services contracts or concessions for the purposes of the 2015 PCRs or CCRs

Danny Curran, MD of Finders International, said that "this document provides clear advice to all Local Authorities who wish to work with Probate Genealogists". He went on to add "we believe that by using the services of a company such as Finders International, it not only saves time for Local Authorities but can have significant cost savings too. At a time when Local Authority budgets are being stretched to unprecedented levels we are here to help ease the burdon on the public purse".

Copies of the advice are available on request from Finders International.