We spoke to Andy Bond, Bereavement Services Manager for Wigan Council, about their award winning service and how they are helping to alleviate funeral poverty.
It can be argued that funeral poverty is one of the biggest issues currently facing the bereaved. Funeral poverty is the difference between the cost of a funeral and the funds a family has available to pay for it. In the last three years, Wigan Council has saved its residents more than £500,000 thanks to a new, innovative approach working with local funeral directors to offer affordable funerals.
Wigan Council has saved £115m over the last six years with its focus on providing effective quality services for residents by transforming services rather than cutting them. To do this the council developed The Deal an informal agreement between the council and everyone who lives or works in the borough to work together to create a better borough. Wigan Council has committed to a series of pledges and in return has asked residents and businesses to play their part too.
Staff have been encouraged to be positive, accountable and courageous when thinking about how services can be delivered differently for residents. The challenge for staff in bereavement services was to embrace The Deal and review an existing municipal funeral service in line with the principles.
The municipal funeral service was rebranded into the ‘Wigan & Leigh residents funeral service’ and offers a low cost all-inclusive package that covers the cremation or burial cost, collection of the deceased (from within the borough), the use of the funeral director’s chapel of rest, the funeral directors services of arranging and supervising the funeral, a hearse and one following limousine, a suitable oak (or similar) finished coffin with engraved nameplate, interior and appropriate handles, the Doctor fees and the cost for the clergy of your choice for the crematorium or grave side service. But ultimately a service which when viewed by the average bystander is not noticeably different from that provided by other funeral directors.
The service was tendered with a challenge to any Funeral Director to maximise the opportunity for local residents to access a fixed price, value for money funeral service for those who want someone to take care of arrangements for them, in line with The Deal. The service was rebranded as the ‘The Wigan & Leigh Residents Funeral Service’, awarded for a three year period and promoted as a partnership between Wigan Council and a local funeral director who was committed to growing the availability for local residents. The cost of a cremation funeral through the service for 2016-17 was £1,892.83 and £1,938.83 for a burial funeral as compared against a funeral national average of £3,675.00 as reported by the ‘Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report 2016’.
Year one of the contract (2014-15), saw 38 families accessing cremations and 16 families accessing burials, a saving to residents of £82,600.00 when compared to the national average from the ‘Royal London’ report for that period.
Year two of the contract (2015-16) saw access more than double with 109 families choosing cremations and 16 families choosing burials, a saving to local residents of £182,795.00 against the national average.
Year three of the contract (2016-17) saw continuous growth in the access to the service with 135 families selecting cremation funerals and 33 families choosing burial funerals representing a saving of £260,806.00, minimising the impact of funeral poverty for local residents.
The impact of the ‘Residents Funeral Service’ over the contract period 2014-2017 shows a massive saving of £526,202.00 against the national average and highlights Wigan Council’s contribution in assisting local residents in combating funeral poverty.
In addition to these savings, the decision was also taken in March 2017 to abolish fees for cremation and burial for those under the age of 18 which will further support families as they go through a difficult period.
Since the service launched, many requests have been received from families wishing to make plans for their own funeral provision to minimise unexpected costs for their families from an unplanned death, but as the service is offered as a point of need service no support was available. Through discussion with a national independent funeral plan provider, Wigan Council were able enhance the offer to manage funeral poverty by signposting residents to funeral plans at an affordable price for those who want develop their own self resilience by making personal provision their own individual funerals.
For more information email Andy Bond, Wigan Council.