Launched in 2017, East Ayrshire Council’s Respectful Funeral Service is the first of its kind in Scotland. Their innovative approach has improved wellbeing and addressed issues relating to funeral poverty; providing a service that is dignified, affordable, and local.
The Council’s Respectful Funeral package was put together to provide dignity, affordability and respect to the bereaved and includes no restriction to date and time of funeral, collection, care and preparation of the deceased, a choice of coffin, a place of rest and viewing facilities, a hearse, family car and all arrangements on the day of the funeral.
The bereaved can also access additional services via the package which includes recovery of the deceased from outwith East Ayrshire, a celebrant, additional cars and orders of service.
Whilst the new approach is not a direct contract between the council and funeral supplier, the Council believed that for the purposes of fairness and transparency the use of the procurement process would ensure that all those entering into a unique partnership could be confident in the methods used. This ensured that services being specified were beyond those basic standards being offered by other companies.
A number of recent reports (including most notably the Birrell – Citizens Advice Scotland Report, 2016) identified a number of recommendations relating to funeral poverty across Scotland and set out how to support communities by ensuring respect and best value for funeral services.
East Ayrshire Council, as part of our commitment to ‘putting people at the heart of everything we do’ agreed to explore ways to ensure that our bereaved families had access to a respectful and dignified funeral at an affordable cost.
The Council, in developing this model, was able to learn from other funeral service delivery models, including Cardiff City Council, with the overall aim of creating a package that is dignified, professional and affordable.
A service level agreement was put in place between the funeral directors and bereaved families. The Council were accommodating the process and specifying the service available, whilst ensuring standards and costs met an agreed criteria and were not entering a
direct agreement with the supplier. This would prove challenging; larger companies in this marketplace already offered simple and basic funerals as part of their main services, with existing price structures already in place.
The Council’s Respectful Funeral package required these companies to challenge their existing business models and provide an improved service package from their existing Simple/Basic Funeral at a reduced cost. The target identified was to achieve savings in excess of 25% on the average cost of Funeral Director fees.
A project board was set up and included colleagues from a range of Council services, including Bereavement, Procurement, Legal and the Vibrant Communities Team.
Detailed planning processes were put in place. A public consultation programme was undertaken, including a range of local events delivered in partnership with the Vibrant Communities Team and external partners. Information leaflets were distributed widely and adverts placed in local media outlets. The initiative also received extensive coverage across national media, including BBC Scotland.
In its first year, of 561 full body adult interments, 124 were delivered as respectful funerals in East Ayrshire. Based on the updated average funeral director costs for 2017 (Royal London and Citizen Advice Scotland reports) and East Ayrshire Bereavement fees 2017-18 we have delivered savings to our bereaved families totalling £165,548. Over 22% of all full body interments in East Ayrshire have been delivered as Respectful Funeral packages.
Speaking at the scheme’s launch in Kilmarnock on 27 February 2017, the Scottish Government’s Social Security Minister, Jeanne Freeman MSP said, ‘Funerals are very personal wrapped in family and tradition, but they can also be stressful, particularly if money is tight. I welcome the fact that East Ayrshire Council is taking positive steps to enable those in the area to plan a stress free and affordable funeral’.
Beyond the direct financial benefits, our approach has also led to greater public and personal discussion, to encourage open and honest conversations around bereavement and funeral poverty.
The word about our approach is spreading. A number of other local authorities have approached us to enquire about our innovative approach to addressing funeral poverty, and the Scottish Government highlighted the progress being made in East Ayrshire in its Funeral Costs Plan, published in August 2017.
The Council is currently undertaking a review of all services as part of its new Transformation Strategy 2017-2022, which will look at service alignment and redesign. As part of this, Bereavement Services are considering how we will deliver a wider range of services in line with partners or in-house.
In terms of external opportunities, this process has allowed other funeral operators to consider their approach to pricing, with a number of local businesses contacting the council to enquire about being included within the service. Indeed, partners have transformed their existing practices to allow the Council’s Respectful Funeral Package to be offered as part of their own product offering.
In a wider context, significant numbers of fellow councils in Scotland have taken an interest in our unique offer and are considering setting up similar models. This could potentially result in a wider transformation of services across the country, providing a business model that helps to support the bereaved when they are at their most vulnerable.
Are you interested in learning about the latest techological innovations and best practice in bereavement services. Then make sure you book your place at the APSE Cemeteries and Crematoria Seminar in Birmingham on 11 April. Click here for more information.