Heartbroken Sunderland family launch appeal to help pay for dad-of-eight's funeral after DWP wrangle
A family grieving the death of a loving husband, father and grandfather say they’ve been left “shocked and devastated” at seeing their claim for help to cover funeral costs being rejected.
Dad-of-eight Thomas Stewart, 53, tragically collapsed and died from a blood clot on his heart while putting his children to bed at his Hendon home in on September 19.
However, more than two weeks since his sad passing the family have not been able “to have any closure” as they’re unable to fund the £5,000 funeral costs.
The family’s financial constraints have also meant they’ve been unable to have his body embalmed.
Thomas’s daughter Shannon Stewart, 24, said: “My dad had been losing weight for several weeks but his death was totally out of the blue. He was putting my younger brothers to bed – one of whom is only four - when he collapsed.
"They initially thought he was joking around but when my sister came up she released he wasn’t moving and started screaming. He was all about his family and will be greatly missed. He doted on his children and grandchildren.”
Thomas’s wife of 25 years, Selina, who’s in receipt of benefits, contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ask for support to meet her husband’s funeral costs.
The Funeral Expenses Payment is available to people in receipt of benefits which Selina believed she qualified for.
A statement on the Government website said: “The payment will not usually cover all of the costs of the funeral. How much you get depends on your circumstances.
"This includes any other money that’s available to cover the costs, for example from an insurance policy or the deceased person’s estate.”
However Selina, 41, was left in tears when she received a letter from the DWP informing her she would not be entitled to any support due to one of her adult children not being in receipt of a benefit which qualifies for the scheme and therefore being in a position to pay for the funeral.
The letter stated: “A funeral payment can only be considered if we accept that it is reasonable for you to have taken responsibility for the funeral costs. We have decided that it is unreasonable for you to have taken responsibility for the funeral.
"This is because there is an immediate family member of the person who has died – parent, son or daughter – who was not estranged from that person when they died and that family member has not been awarded a benefit which would qualify them for a funeral payment.”
However with five of Thomas’s eight children aged 16 or under and Shannon and her brother Sean, 18, currently in receipt of benefits this left the family confused as to who was ineligible and meant to cover the funeral costs.
The family have said they were subsequently informed that Thomas’s oldest son Liam, 22, was not in receipt of benefits and was therefore preventing the family accessing the support.
Shannon said: “We have been told our application has been declined because Liam doesn’t claim benefits. This is absolutely crazy as he is currently serving a four year prison sentence so how can he access and claim benefits?
"My mother is heartbroken as she doesn’t have the money to pay for it. After what happened, the children don’t want to be in the house and so I have been staying with them but it’s terrible watching the situation my mother is in and knowing there’s nothing I can do.”
The family has informed the Echo that Liam is currently serving a sentence for arson.
Selina has manged to “scrape together” a £400 deposit for the funeral but currently has no means of covering the remaining costs.
Shannon added: “We have until October 14 to pay for his funeral otherwise we will have to pay £150 just to cover the cost of the process of a cremation.”
As a last resort family have now launched a GoFundMe page in a desperate attempt to raise the £5,000 costs to cover the funeral. So far they’ve raised £310.
Shannon said: “All we want is some closure and the chance to say a proper goodbye. Whatever anyone can donate would be really appreciated and would mean so much to my mother.”
Explaining the rejection of the claim the DWP have cited an eligibility clause which states: “If the deceased has other immediate family members, such as children, then the children need to be in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
“In circumstances such as when an immediate family member is in prison, then they need to have been in receipt of a qualifying benefit when they were sentenced.”
However the family have disputed this ruling saying that Liam was only 18 when he went into prison and there was only a two week period in which he could have claimed a qualifying benefit and that this was not a realistic time-frame for him to do so.
A spokesman for the DWP added: “Losing a loved one is incredibly distressing and our thoughts are with anyone experiencing bereavement.
“The financial assistance we offer is targeted at those on qualifying benefits to ensure that the most vulnerable are supported with these costs.”
Any money which is awarded for a claim is paid directly to the organiser of the funeral. Eligible benefits include you or your partner being in receipt of Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, the disability or severe disability element of Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit.
The family has now appealed the decision.
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