Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors‘ Manager, Abi Pattenden, explains what the newly-introduced Children’s Funeral Fund means
Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As we have been so long established as Funeral Directors, we have a good sense of some of the most common questions people have around funerals. After years of service to our local communities in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint, we feel part of our role is to develop an understanding of key issues surrounding funerals and end-of-life care, and offer explanations of how they affect the bereaved people who we assist at their time of need.
Today, we are discussing the newly-announced Children’s Funeral Fund, which was introduced in July 2019 following a campaign by MP Carolyn Harris, who represents Swansea East. She had spent 30 years campaigning for such a fund, following the death of her own son, and had lobbied Parliament for almost three years to this effect.
Many funeral directors, including Freeman Brothers, offer children’s funerals at no cost. Others will have a simple package which they provide for free, with charges only for those optional extras which they determine as ‘non-essential’. For example, they may provide a vehicle to convey the Deceased child to the place of his or her funeral but charge to convey any mourners if they do not wish to make their own way. However, some firms do levy charges. We cannot speak for other companies as to their policies and procedures, but can say that our reason for not charging is that our proprietor, Mr Freeman, who is a father to three children himself, feels he is fortunate to only be able to imagine how awful it would have been were anything to happen to any of them. He feels that any parent who does suffer the death of a young child will be experiencing such a difficult time – the potentially unexpected costs would be an exacerbating factor that Freeman Brothers is at least able to alleviate.
However, this is not to say that a funeral will necessarily still have no cost. Even if there are no charges from the funeral director, there may be third-party charges. Some crematoria do carry out cremation services for children at no cost, but some charge. Some places of burial may not charge for the burial itself, but might charge for the purchase of the plot – if that applies – especially if it is an adult-sized plot, if the intention is for future burials in the same plot. Doctors could charge for the completion of cremation papers, although they quite often don’t for children. There is also the potential cost of someone to take the service. The Church of England does not charge for children’s funerals, but a non-religious funeral would often be taken by a Civil Celebrant, who is a self-employed person and, therefore, if they aren’t charging a fee, they are giving up their own time – and the potential to be carrying out paid work during the same time. Most do not charge, though.
The Children’s Funeral Fund is designed to remove these uncertainties and the financial burden of a child’s funeral at what is arguably one of the most difficult times anyone could ever experience. It is designed to cover costs for the funeral of any child who dies before his or her 18th birthday, as well as for babies who are still-born after 24 weeks’ gestation. There is no residency or affordability test, the only other criteria is for the funeral (which means burial or cremation, or erection of a memorial) to be taking place in England after 23rd July 2019.
The Fund will cover the following items, which are split into two different types dependent on who would be making the claim for reimbursement of them. The first type are ‘eligible payments’, which are:
-the cost of a coffin, up to £300.00
-the cost of removing a medical device, if needed (pacemakers and some other types of medical implant cannot be cremated)
-the fees for completion of cremation papers
-the fee for a gravedigger (if this is not included in the fee paid to the place of burial)
-the cost of removing and re-fixing a headstone
-the price of a receptacle for the cremated remains if that which they are returned in by the crematorium is not suitable.
The second type are ‘eligible cremation/burial fees’, which are:
-crematorium fees (including the scattering or burial of the cremated remains)
-storage of the ashes in a columbarium, or similar, until the child who has died would have attained the age of 18 years
-a cemetery fee, without limits on the use of an adult grave or a burial place outside the family’s local area, both of which may occur additional costs
-fees levied to buy an exclusive right of burial (where there are a variety of durations of exclusive right available, the lowest available will be paid for providing that the child would have attained the age of 18 at the end of that period).
Another additional benefit of the system which has been introduced is that there is no obligation for either the funeral director or the bereaved family to incur many costs. As with most funerals, before the introduction of this system, third-party charges (most of those in the second ‘type’ above) for children’s funerals would be paid by the funeral director to the crematorium or cemetery, and they would ask the family to reimburse them. However, these second type fees will now be charged by the place where the funeral takes place directly to the Children’s Funeral Fund. The first type will either be claimed by the family or, if they are using one, the funeral director can claim on their behalf, and be paid directly for those charges which they would otherwise be passed onto the family – or for which the funeral director would be out-of-pocket in some cases.
One omission we have noticed from the list of inclusions is the work which might be required to a headstone (other than removing it from an existing grave and replacing it afterwards). It could be argued this is not a necessity, but it could be suggested that often, a family choose to bury someone (child or otherwise) because of the ability to memorialise them in this way. Whether the scheme will be extended in due course to include this, remains to be seen.
When we think about funerals generally, it is either from our own previous experiences of them, or at remove – or sometimes both. For people who have never experienced the death and funeral of a child, it is probably virtually impossible to imagine what it would be like. Carolyn Harris’ experiences 30 years ago obviously stayed with her to the extent that it motivated her actions all these years later. When a child dies, there is also the loss of the hopes and expectations for their futures – the events which had been expected which will now never take place, however distant – the loss of an only child also potentially means a lack of grandchildren, for example. It is also very difficult to explain deaths, particularly of their peers, to younger children in a way which does not have the potential to affect them in the longer term. The creation of the Children’s Funeral Fund is designed to mitigate the issue of cost, because that is all that can really be done to try to ease the burden of such a bereavement in the face of a probable feeling of helplessness that the idea of a child dying engenders.
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