A surge in claims for Government help to pay funeral costs is a “tragic consequence” of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Labour.
Work and Pensions minister Mims Davies said there were 310 claims made under the funeral expenses payment scheme in England and Wales in the week commencing March 23.
This increased to 1,480 claims in the week commencing May 4, the highest figure recorded in a 10-week period until the end May.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the figures showed the struggle of those trying to meet funeral costs while being in financial difficulty as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
He added the eligibility criteria for the payment should be widened, insisting people must “not be pushed into hardship for putting their loved ones to rest” during the coronavirus crisis.
The payments can be claimed by people receiving certain benefits and can help towards the cost of burial fees, cremation fees, travel, the cost of moving the body within the UK, and death certificates.
Money for funeral director’s fees, flowers and a coffin can also be claimed.
Up to £700 can be claimed if a person died before April 8 or £1,000 if they died on or after April 8.
People should not be pushed into hardship for putting their loved ones to rest in this difficult time
Figures obtained by Mr Reynolds showed the scheme received 8,530 claims in the 10-week period from March 23 to May 31.
The Labour MP told the PA news agency: “It is a particularly tragic consequence of the coronavirus pandemic that there will be more bereaved families trying to meet costs for funerals while being in financial difficulty because of the crisis itself.
“The increase in the number of people claiming for funeral expenses payments tells a clear story, but we must not forget those who fall outside our social security system and therefore do not qualify for any kind of help with funeral costs.
“Labour has asked the Government to consider widening eligibility for the payment and look at where it was falling short in meeting costs.
“People should not be pushed into hardship for putting their loved ones to rest in this difficult time.”
There are no current plans to amend the eligibility criteria for the funeral expenses payment scheme
Those eligible to claim under the scheme include people receiving Universal Credit, Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and income support.
The partner or close relative of the deceased can also make a claim, along with the parent of a baby stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy or the parent of a deceased child aged under 16.
Ms Davies, replying to written parliamentary question from Mr Reynolds, said: “Funeral expenses payments make an important contribution towards the costs of a funeral for claimants on certain benefits or tax credits or a support for mortgage interest loan and we have continued to make these payments throughout the pandemic.”
She added: “There are no current plans to amend the eligibility criteria for the funeral expenses payment scheme.”
The weekly data for funeral expenses claims in England and Wales (all from date of week commencing) released to Mr Reynolds was:
March 23 – 310<br>March 30 – 410<br>April 6 – 350<br>April 13 – 440<br>April 20 – 800<br>April 27 – 940<br>May 4 – 1,480<br>May 11 – 1,470<br>May 18 – 1,290<br>May 25 – 1,040