Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

A change to the Canada Pension Plan to provide a flat-rate death benefit to help low-income families cover funeral costs falls short of what funeral homes say is needed to cover the cost of a final farewell.

After meetings this week, federal and provincial finance ministers set the death benefit at a flat $2,500, regardless of how long or how much someone had paid into CPP.

Leading up to the meeting, the Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580 — back to what it was in 1997 before finance ministers of the day imposed a sliding scale benefit based on an individual’s contributions to the CPP, capped at a maximum benefit of $2,500.

The association also asked that the benefit be tied to inflation so its value would increase with the cost of living.

Finance ministers didn’t agree. And now there are creeping concerns the decision will mean more people won’t be able to afford a funeral, which costs an average $6,000.

“It doesn’t make sense,” association president Yves Berthiaume said.

“Government needs to look at it (the death benefit) a little more closely and how they want to deal respectfully with their citizens.”

READ MORE: Family needs help to bring home son’s remains

READ MORE: Fraser Health apologizes after releasing body to wrong funeral home

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the change would increase benefits to the estates of lower-income contributors.

The death benefit would likely be worth $5,500 today had it not been capped two decades ago. At the time, officials worried the benefit would become financially unsustainable if its value increased annually with the maximum income covered by CPP premiums.

The funeral services association estimates the benefit has lost 38 per cent of its buying power over the past two decades due to inflation.

Conservative social development critic Karen Vecchio said the finance ministers’ decision runs counter to what stakeholders wanted and will force Canadians to not only find ways to save more for retirement, but for death as well.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said the flat-rate payment will ensure no one is denied the benefit because they didn’t contribute enough money for a long enough period of time. But he said he was at a loss to understand why the finance ministers didn’t do more.

“The numbers need to come up and we’ll have to put some effort to try and address that,” Yussuff said.

In the 2014-15 fiscal year, CPP death benefits totalled $312 million for about 139,000 people. One year later, payments totalled $347 million for about 150,000 people.

At the same time, a larger proportion of seniors are living beneath the poverty line: The most recent census figures showed 14.5 per cent of seniors living in poverty in 2015, an increase from the 12 per cent recorded in 2005.

That has meant Berthiaume sees 30 to 40 low-income families a year unable to pay for funeral services even with a combination of government and private benefits. Four decades ago, when he first started in the family business, Berthiaume said there were about five cases a year.

He said he and other funeral services in Canada regularly cover the shortfall out of their own pockets.

The death benefit is paid to an estate, executor named in a will or an administrator named by the court.

If no estate exists, or an executor hasn’t applied for the death benefit, the payment would go first to whoever covered funeral costs, then to the surviving spouse or common-law partner, and lastly next of kin — a priority list that causes bureaucratic headaches for a relatively small payment.

An undated document recently created by officials at Employment and Social Development Canada said the hierarchy creates “a complex administrative process” that causes ”delays in benefit payments.” The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the document under the access-to-information law.

Berthiaume’s association has asked governments to consider allowing families the option to direct the death benefit to licensed funeral service providers to offset costs. The association argues this would reduce administration costs.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich residents warned to watch livestock after bear kills llama

Officers with Conservation, Saanich police could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

A 23-foot sailboat that broke free from its anchor was smashed against Cattle Point during the early October south-easterly storms. (Ron Geezin Photo)
Storm-smashed boat pulled off rocks of Cattle Point in Oak Bay

Sailboat a casualty of last week’s big storms

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

More than 250 riders took part in the fifth annual Tripleshot CrossFondo, which riders across parts of the Saanich Peninsula, including this field near Sluggett Farms. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Tripleshot CrossFondo rides across Saanich Peninsula

More than 250 cyclists took part in mystery-course race

City of Victoria crews will soon be gathering up fallen leaves in neighbourhoods and city parks. First up on the pickup list are the James Bay, Fairfield, Rockland, Gonzales and South Jubilee neighbourhoods, starting Oct. 19. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria city leaf pickup a sure sign of fall

Residential pickup begins Oct. 19, drop-offs can happen anytime at city yard

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read