The inquiry coincides with the publication of the results of a freedom of information request by BBC local radio, which found that the cost of public health funerals (sometimes known as ‘paupers’ funerals’) to local councils has risen by 28% in the last four years, with the total cost to councils now standing at just over £1.7 million.
Councils carried out 2,580 public health funerals in 12 months spanning 2013/14, an increase of 11% since 2009/10.
People on low incomes can apply for Social Funeral Fund payments, which cover burial and cremation costs and up to £700 in funeral director fees, however this is paid in retrospect. The Widowed Parents Allowance is only available when a widowed parent was married to their partner.
Sandra Evans, assistant director of bereavement services at Cardiff city council, told the BBC that the £700 figure had not changed for 10 years, while funeral costs have risen above the rate of inflation. She also said that the process of applying for assistance could put some people off.
The new inquiry will look at how to tackle the problems with these benefits and is currently seeking written submissions from interested parties.
The committee is specifically keen to hear about the impact on people who cannot afford to meet the costs of a funeral for a loved one, and what effect this has on funeral homes and local authorities. It is also calling for submissions regarding the awareness surrounding bereavement benefits.
Emma Lewell-Buck, the Labour MP for South Shields and member of the committee, said: “Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences we face in our lives. As the costs of funerals have risen out of pace with financial support, more and more people are faced with the prospect of funeral poverty.
“Over 100,000 people are living with average funeral debt of £1,318. The committee will be looking at what can be done to better support people at times when they are particularly vulnerable.”
More information about the inquiry is available on the UK Parliament website. The deadline for written submissions is 5 January 2016.