Paupers’ funerals on the rise

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THE number of paupers’ funerals being paid for by Wigan Council is on the rise, new figures have revealed.

And, as a result, the council spent more than three times as much on funerals for people who died penniless and alone in 2014/15 then it did in 2010/11, according to an Freedom of Information request by the BBC.

The council paid for just eight community deaths in each year from 2010/11 to 2012/3 at a total cost across the three years of 21,815.27.

But this rose to 13 in 2013/14, costing £14,734.26, and to 18 in 2014/15 at a cost of £21,472.88.

Under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, councils must arrange and bear the cost of a funeral when a person who lived in the area dies outside a hospital and with no-one able or willing to pay.

Local authorities try to find living relatives or friends of the deceased and can pass responsibility for costs to them.

Sharon Barber, assistant director for adults support and safeguarding, said: “We will always try to track down family members where possible and it is terribly sad when this cannot be done.

“In 2011 Wigan Council provided a public cremation fee for residents struggling to cope with the cost of cremation and the Wigan and Leigh Residents Funeral Service negotiated by the council on behalf of local residents offers an effective way of managing rising funeral costs.”

The request also revealed that the most the council had spent on a single funeral in the past five years was £1,325.31 and the least was £160.87.

The youngest person to be given a paupers’ funeral in the past five years in Wigan was 36 and the oldest was 96.

Overall, councils carried out 2,580 public health funerals in a 12-month period in 2013-2014, a rise of 11 per cent on 2009-2010, the BBC said.

The cost to councils for the 2013-2014 period, after some costs were recovered, rose by 28 per cent to £1,719,329.

Some industry experts said more people simply cannot afford to pay for funerals.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematoria Management told the BBC: “I think more people are being trapped in funeral poverty - that is, they just can’t afford funerals.”

Mark Woollard, from the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors said the rise is down to more people living longer, and often alone, and blamed third party costs.

He told the BBC: “I think there’s been an increase in public health funerals because people don’t have as much disposable income, and also, people are living longer and alone.

“A lot of (the cost) is due to third-party costs such as crematorium fees, cemetery fees, and the minister’s fees - (which) have gone up much more than the funeral director’s’ costs.”

The BBC said 300 of the 409 councils responsible for public health funerals gave full responses to the FOI request.

Public health funerals cannot be organised by the family of the deceased who must pursue other options if they are struggling to meet costs.

In those circumstances, a Social Fund Funeral payment fund is available.

Last year research by the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR) suggested hundreds of thousands of those dying in 2014 would have struggled to afford funeral costs.