A FUNERAL DIRECTOR is calling on the Government to boost pay-outs to bereaved families, who she said are stuck in a cycle of debt. 

Lucy Coulbert, who owns The Individual Funeral Company and Coulbert Family Funerals both in Rose Hill, wants the Department of Work and Pensions to pay higher funeral benefits, quicker. 

She told the Oxford Mail: "The Department won’t pay a penny until after the funeral, but the family needs money to at least pay the deposit.

“People applying often have no other means of getting the money, they can’t get bank loans. They get stuck in a spiral of debt and it’s hard to get people out of it."

People on low incomes can apply to the Department for a varying sum of money to help cover the cost of a funeral, which can cost thousands of pounds. 

There is a criteria checklist in place and the person will usually have to pay back any money they get from the deceased's estate.

Ms Coulbert was set to address the Department's select commmittee in Westminster this morning. 

The 33-year-old set up Coulbert Family Funerals in September last year alongside her bespoke business, the Individual Funeral Company, to provide affordable funerals. 

She said: "It’s a more specialised company for people having problems. We refer people to advice centres and charities like Quaker Social Action, and help them apply to the Department of Work and Pensions. 

"We try to do the funeral for whatever the department will pay – sometimes that’s only £800 which doesn’t even cover the cost of Oxford Crematorium, which has gone up to £943.

"I’m the first one to say I’m a business but we run effectively as not-for-profit. If I can find a way of helping somebody I will. I’m with a coffin company where if the families don’t mind what it looks like – it could be a multi-coloured coffin or a cardboard one. I can buy that for £30.

"I’ve been in this industry for a decade and we stick with the families the whole way through. When I started out I was shocked – the cost isn’t something people think about and people don’t understand that costs vary between different funeral directors."

She said funeral directors are prejudiced against people applying to the Department for benefits, and will often turn them away or present them with an overpriced quote to put them off. 

She said: "They don’t want the hassle because it takes an awful long time to get the money.  They will tell them to come back when they have the money."

But Ms Coulbert said the stigma was misplaced.

She said: “They could be soldiers with post-traumatic stress, who can’t get a job and have had to go on benefits. The families have some really hard choices to make. It’s not right.”

In her evidence to the committee, she was set to demand higher, more transparent payments, paid before the funeral. 

She said: “People don’t know how much they are going to get from the Department until after the funeral. It needs to be made a lot clearer, people need to be told how much they are going to get.

“It also has to be paid before the funeral, and the payments need to be higher. £800 isn’t going to cut it.”

She also suggested there should be more regulation to stop people being ripped off.

She said: “Some of the national companies are making millions of profit. It shouldn’t be left to a tiny little company like mine to do something.”