Grahame Morris MP called for greater leadership and cohesion across government to improve treatment of grieving families.
The demands came during a debate in the Commons on the campaign for a cross-industry Bereavement Standard.
Easington MP Grahame Morris, who instigated this evening’s adjournment debate, said: “Currently, we lack cross-government coordination and focus. Issues of bereavement run across several departments – Health, Work and Pensions, Education, Justice and Business.
“We need a clear Ministerial lead on bereavement to ensure coordination across departments, otherwise bereaved families will continue to slip through the net.”
More than 91,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to introduce a Bereavement Standard, and more than 50 cross-party MPs have signed a similar Early Day Motion in the Commons.
The Bereavement Standard would speed up end-of-life account closure processes, standardise documents with digital versions where possible, and oblige service providers to provide dedicated bereavement channels for customers to contact, with properly trained staff.
Campaigners also want to see the introduction of digital death certificates so that notifying companies of a death is quicker and more straight-forward.
The Labour MP told the Commons: “A Ministerial lead for Bereavement, working across departments could facilitate the necessary legislation to deliver digital death certificates – saving my constituents, time, expense and heartache.”
Vicky Wilson, co-founder of the Bereavement Standard campaign with Cruse Bereavement Care, said: “We need a Bereavement Standard now more than ever and we need swifter action from the government to bring it about. With the death toll from the pandemic standing at more than 100,000 people, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ease the stress on families who have lost loved ones.
“Our discussions with the government and regulators have been positive so far but have shown that no department is able to consider all of the issues, because no minister is entirely in charge of all the issues.”
There is a bereavement minister in the Department of Health and Social Care – Nadine Dorries – but her remit specifically omits financial policy, while two other departments BEIS and DWP are also regularly involved in policy regarding bereavement.
Steven Wibberly, CEO of Cruse Bereavement Care, who co-chairs the Bereavement Standard Working Group, said: “We know BEIS is working on some of these issues and is speaking to industry regulators. That engagement is welcome and is a sign that the Bereavement Standard campaign has hit the mark. The department should be congratulated for picking up this issue and realising how important it is to resolve.
“But this is a matter that we cannot afford to kick into the long grass. We need strong leadership from BEIS on behalf of bereaved people to ensure regulators, banks, utilities and other sectors take this seriously and collaborate to make things easier for supporting bereaved customers.”
The Bereavement Standard campaign is supported by several charities including Marie Curie, Sue Ryder and the Good Grief Trust, as well as the National Association of Funeral Directors and the online will-writing and probate service Farewill.
Across the UK, more than 600,000 people die every year. Currently, there is no approved process for closing or transferring accounts when someone dies – some companies demand a death certificate before taking action, others seek different proof and paperwork. It can take weeks, or months, of repeated calls to resolve just one account. On average individuals have up to 20 utility, mobile, broadband, TV subscription, and other household service accounts which need to be closed.
Vicky Wilson, along with mother Julie, have founded a new online bereavement account closure service, Settld, which launches to the public next Tuesday, February 9th.
Co-founder Julie Wilson, from Easington, County Durham, said: “We hope that Settld will ease some of the stress faced by those who’ve recently lost loved ones. Our free service is simple and secure to use, and will notify a person’s death to multiple companies in one go.
Members of the public are able to upload necessary documents via a secure webform at Settld.care after which Settld will automatically notify service providers of a death.