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€19m awarded in funeral grants last year to aid stricken families

More than €19m was spent on funeral grants last year as an increasing number of people said they couldn't afford the cost of burying their dead.

New figures show that more than 25,000 people in financial difficulties turned to the Department of Social Protection to assist in the cost of funerals for loved ones.

The State also awarded grants to people outside of the Republic -- with 73 cases for funerals in Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry. Only four such requests were refused.

A further 1,396 grants were awarded for people who died abroad but no breakdown per country was available from the Department of Social Protection.

A spokesman for the department confirmed that the qualifying conditions did not change, no matter where the applicant resided.

"The bereavement grant qualifying conditions are based on the PRSI record of the deceased or their spouse/partner/cohabitant, or parent/guardian in the case of a qualified child," he said.

While the bereavement grant provides claimants with €850, there is an emergency fund available for those in extreme financial difficulties, which offers greater funding of up to €2,000. This is strictly means-tested.

Figures are unavailable in relation to how many people benefitted from this funding.

Such is the magnitude of financial problems faced by many people that some funeral directors have introduced "economy funerals".

Peter Maguire, from Massey's funeral services in Dublin, said his company had started to offer cheaper economy funerals as people struggled to afford funeral costs, even with State assistance.

"The sole difference with the economy funeral would be the coffin. We offer a flat-lid coffin, which is basic in design, in either mahogany or oak, at a cost of €2,000," he said.

"It's hard to put an average cost on a funeral, but typically, presuming the grave has already been bought, a funeral can cost anywhere between €3,000 to €10,000 upwards."

A spokesman for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs) said people should consult a third party who was not emotionally attached to ensure they could afford the cost of a funeral.

"People tend to make decisions on funerals based on their emotional state at the time, rather than on their finances. It is not until months after the funeral, when the bills start coming in the door, that people realise the full cost.

"We would urge people to get a third party, be it a relation or otherwise, to assess how much they can afford to spend," he said.

In total, 22,919 bereavement grants were awarded in 2011 at a cost of €19.3m to the State. A further 2,535 requests for grants were refused.

The bereavement grant is a once-off payment of €850; it is a social insurance benefit based on the PRSI contributions of the deceased or their spouse.

The scheme covers both the insured person and their spouse and dependent children under age 18 (or under age 22 if in full-time education). It can be claimed up to 12 months after the death.

Dublin had the highest amount of claimants, with 6,459 people being awarded the grant. Kerry had the highest amount of refusals, at 162.

Sunday Independent