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'My sister was failed in life and in death': We need to restore the bereavement grant

Paddy Kevane talks about how lack of government support can impact families during an emotional period.

Paddy Kevane

LAST WEEK POLITICIANS, particularly in Kerry, debated whether or not political representatives should attend funerals, particularly if they don’t know the deceased. Apparently this was a major issue to some people.

Unfortunately, this issue of attendance at funerals completely overshadowed more important matters, such as the cut to the bereavement grant of €850 since January 2014.

My 19-year-old sister, Breda, passed away unexpectedly on 24 April. Our family had already campaigned to get her the medical help she needed – an ICU bed transfer to Cork.

The severe cutback to services in our hospital in Kerry caused Breda to need a transfer. Cuts, hospital delays, overcrowding and even HSE bureaucracy, all stood in Breda’s way. The State failed her in life and in death. Not only were hospital services cut, but even the bereavement grant was gone.

Cost of Funerals and Tax

While our family could manage the cost of Breda’s funeral, many families simply cannot. What happens to them?

Funerals do not come cheap. An average Irish funeral is said to cost around €5,000, excluding getting a grave or having a cremation. Funerals are officially VAT exempt, but they are stealth taxed in my opinion.

For example, a local undertaker will usually purchase coffins from a supplier. That undertaker must pay 23% VAT on that coffin. On a €2,000 coffin, that is almost €500. The undertaker can’t take that hit, so the deceased’s family must shoulder the cost.

You also need to pay 13.5% VAT on headstones should you choose to bury your loved one. Even in death, the State looks for tax money from you. I won’t even go into the inheritance tax.

History

The bereavement grant was first introduced in February 1999. It was £500 and replaced the death grant scheme of £100. The government of the time also eased the qualifying conditions for entitlement. The idea was to help families during a difficult time.

After a few years, it was increased to €850. Then the previous government cut it completely out from Budget 2014 onwards. The bereavement grant provided a reported annual saving of €22 million. The government blamed Ireland’s financial situation.

Of course, if you are cynical like me, you would say that the State seems to have money for other things such as so-called special advisers, large salaries and increased allowances for ministers.

Current Assistance Available

Even though the bereavement grant of €850 was cut for the majority of Irish citizens, other funding sources are available to a limited number of individuals. For example, there is a special funeral grant of €850 but only where a person dies because of an accident at work or occupational disease.

You may be eligible for an exceptional needs payment to help with funeral costs if you are on a low income but each case is decided on its merits (which is a bit wishy-washy).

Apparently, the person who you apply to, the community welfare officer, prefers if you apply before the funeral takes place. But in practice, most people will apply afterwards.

Money should be the last thing to worry about during a bereavement. State assistance is minimal and families can be left with large debts.

All politicians should campaign to reinstate the grant in the next budget. It would be a step in the right direction to offset these unfair taxes on the deceased. You’re taxed enough when you’re alive; leave the dead alone.

Paddy Kevane is a 23-year-old Social Care Student in Tralee.

Read: A young child telling me about the death of a parent or sibling is the hardest part of my job

Read: ‘What I’ve learned from working in a crematorium for 33 years’

About the author:

Paddy Kevane

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