Recent increases in the numbers of ‘public health’ or local authority-arranged cremations and burials – the modern day equivalent of the ‘pauper’s funeral’ and required where ‘no suitable arrangements’ for a funeral have otherwise been made – are being attributed, in part at least, to the inadequacy and complexity of the principal scheme of state financial support towards funeral costs, social fund funeral expenses payments. It is therefore timely to review this scheme. The relevant law aims to ensure that support is targeted precisely, but it exemplifies the complexity within the welfare system and contributes to the significant navigational challenge facing claimants at what is likely to be a difficult time for them. This article discusses the development and role of these payments and their legal basis and assesses their significance in the context of the welfare system as a whole. It concludes that although the Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme has so far ignored these payments there is a need to modernise and improve this part of the benefits system.