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Figures obtained by ITV News show those eligible for government funeral assistance face an average debt of nearly £2,000

We have evidence that a government scheme designed to alleviate funeral poverty is failing.

Means tested payments for those who can't afford burials and cremations have remained frozen for the last 15 years.

And our new figures show that the bereaved, already in despair, can also be left in debt.

There is now mounting pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions to change its funeral payments for people on certain benefits and tax credits.

DWP has been criticised for freezing their means tested payments for 15 years. Credit: ITV News

We obtained new figures, from parliamentary written answers, showing the government received 40,200 funeral payment applications in the last year.

They paid out 25,697, but stringent eligibility rules mean more than a third of applications were initially unsuccessful.

Our findings show that those who were paid got an average of £1,427. Yet figures from the funeral industry suggest that even a simple funeral now costs £3,289.

Our findings reveal that those who are eligible for help can face an average shortfall of £1,889.

Catherine Evans (right) struggled to pay for her mother's funeral. Credit: ITV News

Catherine Evans lost her mother earlier this year and, as a carer for her disabled child, she was desperate for assistance with funeral costs.

However, if she only had the DWP payment the funeral would have been very far from what she had expected. She told ITV News: "It would have been mum cremated, nobody there and me told when her ashes were ready.

“It would have been disgusting, it’s not the way somebody who had worked all her life and paid taxes should be sent away.

"I thought they would have given you a funeral, where people go and someone says something from the Bible and they are allowed flowers."

£1,889
average shortfall for those eligible for DWP assistance.

Catherine took on over £1,000 in debt to pay for the kind of service she thought was the minimum needed to give her mum a dignified send-off.

She still has no idea when or how she will repay the debt.

"Mum had 17 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren. She deserved for people to say goodbye to her, for the great mum and grandmother she was and not just be taken away and dealt with," Catherine said.

The death of Catherine Evans' mother was mourned by her 17 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Credit: ITV News

In an ITV News survey, 95% of funeral directors said government funeral payments no longer cover even basic costs.

Alison Crake, a funeral director based on Stockton on Tees and the president of the National Association of Funeral Directors said, "In the midst of grief, families are having to navigate their way through the implications of a funeral expenses payment that is no longer fit for purpose and they have to have an understanding of the shortfall that will have to be met.

"We would like to see the government address the inadequacies of that payment."

Responding to our research, the DWP told us that payments do provide an important contribution to funeral costs and meet the necessary expenses.

But ultimately, some see the DWP scheme as outdated, leaving many who are in despair also in debt.

When it comes to funerals, sympathy doesn’t pay the bills.