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Pauper’s funerals cost UK councils £5.4 million last year

Investigation reveals a third of public health funerals were down to bereaved families being unable to afford the burial

Pauper’s funerals cost UK councils almost £5.4 million last year, according to a new investigation, a rise of 3.5 per cent over 2016/17.

Freedom of information requests carried out by Royal London found that nearly a third of public health funerals were carried out as a result of families being unable to afford a burial, costing on average £3,757.

The pensions firm also discovered that one in 10 families went into debt as a result of covering a loved one’s funeral costs while a third of public health funerals were down to the deceased having no family. A further one in 10 had families unwilling to pay for the funeral.

Of the 390 local authorities studied, Birmingham and Manchester’s city councils, perhaps unsurprisingly, paying £990,437 and £242,178. The City of London was among the 10 councils paying the least, coughing up £715.

However, Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, warns that the cuts local authorities are facing are causing an increase in burial fees.

“Local authorities are raising burial and cremation fees as they face cuts in funding from central government,” she said. “This is one of the key drivers of funeral cost inflation and ultimately results in an increase in the number of public health funerals local councils have to perform, as bereaved families are unable to pay for their loved one’s send off.

“More support is needed to help those struggling with funeral costs and the government needs to improve the funeral payment benefit to help tackle funeral poverty.”

A Local Government Association spokesperson added: “The increase in these funerals are an extra pressure on over-stretched council budgets which pay for them.

“Councils are facing a funding gap of £3.1 billion by 2020. The figures also mask the number of funerals paid for by the NHS when people die in hospital.”

A no-frills pauper’s funeral provided by the local authority covers just a coffin and a funeral director with the time of the service set by the council.

For many Big Issue vendors who die homeless, this is the reality that they face when they die. That’s why regular customers of late sellers like Fabian Bayet, Istvan Kakas and, most recently, Andy Rogers and more have rallied around to raise funds for a more conventional service.

And social enterprises are also contributing to keep funeral costs down – Caledonia Cremation were named One to Watch at last year’s Social Enterprise UK Awards for their commitment to tackling funeral poverty in Scotland.

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