The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Walking away

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Public health, council or (a new term to us) public funerals are on the rise in Burnley Lancashire, a once-thriving mill town from which manufacturing has ebbed, leaving a generally impecunious population — but a halfway decent football team. A report in the Lancashire Telegraph tells us:

In 2007 Burnley Council paid for three public funerals at a cost of £9,000, of which £7,000 was recovered through the deceased’s estate. But in recent years that number has risen by up to 400 per cent, with 13 public funerals in 2010, at a cost of £16,000, of which only £4,800 was recovered. There were nine public funerals in 2011 and there have been seven so far in 2012.

Jill Wolfendale, the council’s principal environmental health officer, says: 

“In the last three years there seems to be an increase in those public funerals where there are relatives but they are unwilling or unable to make the funeral arrangements. Council staff make every effort to point out to family or friends who may want to make arrangements but have concerns or difficulties meeting the costs that they may be entitled to claim a grant to help towards costs. However, in recent years relatives are increasingly unable or unwilling to do this as generally they still have to provide up front deposits to funeral directors.”

Clearly the dysfunctional Social Fund Funeral Payment has a lot to answer for here. What is curious is the rising number of people who are unwilling to assume responsibility for burying or cremating their own. Is there a social trend emerging? 

Full report here.

15 comments on “Walking away

  1. John Pidgeon

    Friday 5th October 2012 at 10:53 am

    Couple of things here that I find odd.
    £3000 for a Council Funeral, seems VERY expensive, particularly considering that many funeral directors in that area have a less expensive basic option available. Certainly in Cardiff a basic service can be provided at much lower costs.
    The State Funded Funeral is a bit of a nightmare, the DSS rules only allow a relatively small sum in payment towards the Funeral Directors charges £700 and that must include the cost of the officiant, the anomaly here is that they (DSS) will pay almost ANY sum towards the Council Fee for burial or Cremation. WHY?? I honestly feel, that given the constant grabbing by the Government (not just the current one) of every penny they can get from people who work and their employers, with the latest Pension arrangement (designed to try and reduce HMG responsibilities in future pensions for Private Sector workers, that everyone should be given a reasonable sum to contribute towards their funeral costs, OR no one should be given any funding. Self reliance seems to be the way Government is going, how about HMG instigating a National Burial Fund whereby everyone in the UK working or not gets a pound a week deducted from their Wage or Dole(that money being paid directly into the national funeral fund so the Government cant get its grubby hands on it) and when their time comes EVERYONE can if they so desire make a claim for assistance from the fund. The sum paid out will be one part in however many millions are registered contributors. There could easily be a simple site showing how much is in the fund as well as how many contributors SIMPLE maths will show how much is available without complex paperwork.
    The system does need changing as it is no longer fit for purpose, particularly when there are so many anomalies in payments made.
    Of course many could claim my thoughts are simply self interest as I am a Funeral Director, but they would be wrong, it is simply wrong that so many people have no back up in this area when they have worked all their lives paid tax and NI and because they do not qualify for some means tested assistance they get nothing, whilst Councils get full whack regardless of the ability of the deceased to pay.
    IF a Funeral Director was seen selling off a deceased persons goods to pay towards the funeral there would be hell to pay, why is it acceptable for a Council to do it? Remember the Council has probably had many years of Council Tax as payment for services that many of the deceased people did not get during their lifetime. Why cannot the Council, wherever they may be foot the final bill (when absolutely necessary)

    • Nick Gandon

      Friday 5th October 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Well said that man!

      • Friday 5th October 2012 at 1:15 pm

        Very interesting points you raise, John, especially about compulsory saving for funerals. As you say, self-reliance seems to be the theme at the moment, and I think we are all aware of the limitations of that. My fear is that the govt will seek in some way to humiliate poor people even more than they do now in order to frighten them into saving – by downgrading public health funerals to something invidious; re-inventing the pauper’s funeral, in other words.

        Funeral expenses are always the first claim on anyone’s estate, so councils are in order legally to recoup expenses that way. But I am not going to sail any further down legal channels and speculate on what the situation would be if FDs undertook responsibility for disposal…

  2. Thursday 4th October 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Tories are around every corner Charles..

    And to be fair, this problem existed before the coalition. It shames us all that the least well off in society are being forced to abandon their loved ones to the state because they cannot afford to bury or cremate them. Having said that, more often than not, the same people who can’t pay do seem to find substantial sums for flowers. This is a little irksome. I realise I’m in a minority – but so far, have yet to turn anyone away, however skint they claim to be. I feel pride plays a part. Usually someone in the family has some money – the person who feels most responsible for arranging is usually too proud to ask for help.

    • Thursday 4th October 2012 at 10:40 pm

      To be fair to the Tories, it was John Major’s govt which brought in the Funeral Payment at a level high enough to pay for a decent funeral. It’s subsequent govts which have let inflation erode it.

  3. Nick Gandon

    Thursday 4th October 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks for the “plug” Andrew.

    I guess it’s starting to become a bit of a hot potato for both councils and hospitals. From the figures claimed in the newspaper quoted, the cost to that particular council has dropped from £3000 to £1230 per public funeral in a year. It’s still a fairly high figure, but traditionally, many funeral directors have tendered their fees at lower than cost.

    The times however, they are a changing. Most councils are having to “wise-up” with their cheque books, and most FDs can’t be as generous as they may have been in the past.

    Oh yes, families and friends may be able to claim from the social fund, though I have a claim thats been in the system for over 60 days so far. No FD can provide services without some guarantee of payment – so don’t look to the social fund for open ended help.

    It gets worse though, as FDs are more wary than ever of taking bodies into their care pending a decision from the DWP, some are delaying removing their clients from hospitals and public mortuarys, who in turn are beginning to charge a penalty per day storage charge.

    The obvious risk is that as the storage charges build up, the families will become less able to cover the final costs, and may be even more inclined than before to leave the funeral responsibility with the health or local authority.

    The cost of direct cremation must be attractive for the authorities, but nearly every one of them currently insists on providing the full works, complete with priest, hearse, bearers and chapel service – whether the Deceased was religious or not.

    Who knows what’s around the corner?


    • Thursday 4th October 2012 at 7:19 pm


      • Nick Gandon

        Thursday 4th October 2012 at 7:29 pm


  4. Thursday 4th October 2012 at 6:15 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me. I recently had someone sell his car to help pay the costs. I found it upsetting.

    Today on BBC Radio Solent I heard a family complain that their mother had ‘paid’ the Co-op £750 twenty years ago ‘for her funeral.’ When she passed away recently, the Co-op informed her that the sum paid all those years ago was now worth.. £750. Might be worth looking in to Charles?

    This wouldn’t pay the crematorium fee in some areas these days.

    • andrew plume

      Thursday 4th October 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Hi David

      that sounds pretty poor to say the least, this relates to our friends (sic) whose internal departmental name is ‘End of LIfe Services’ no doubt or big brother F’care

      and yes, it sounds as though there’s scope here for looking into exactly what has gone on……………………………………

      and yes, David, cremation fees have notw reached (imo) unacceptable levels



    • Dave Lucas

      Friday 5th October 2012 at 12:52 pm

      As with so many stories in the media – you have to look at both sides, so perhaps someone should ask Funeralcare. I think the co-op used to run a scheme that if someone paid £500 TOWARDS their funeral, it was imediately topped up to £750 but these were not prepayment plans and were not ever full payment for the funeral. No idea if this was the posiiton in this case, but the numbers do match up.

  5. Jonathan

    Thursday 4th October 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Steady on, Andrew! For one thing, if you’re that skint that you can’t cough up three grand from thin air, you can’t and that’s that. Nobody who wants it back is going to lend it to you, and you couldn’t pay it back if they did. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times (though fortunately not with the monstrous burden of funeral costs on top of a bereavement).

    But aside from that, why shouldn’t someone who is poor be allowed to hold a funeral, even at public expense? If the likes of Alan Sugar can have a bus pass out of my hard-earned, I reckon us other 99% – who’ve spent a lifetime ‘just having to accept it’ – deserve more than to be told we’re not worth it.

    • andrew plume

      Thursday 4th October 2012 at 6:36 pm

      thx Jonathan

      errr, I wasn’t exactly ‘going over the top’ ………………but I do feel that financial reality has to be accepted…………………



  6. andrew plume

    Thursday 4th October 2012 at 2:34 pm

    interesting stuff, although sad nevertheless

    as has been said, it’s one thing for a Council to step in when there are absolutely no relatives but completely another when there are and they are very unwilling

    surely in both cases, it should be ‘direct cremation only’ (and Nick Gandon isn’t that far away, in distance terms) and in the case of where there are relatives, then they will, I’m afraid, just have to accept it


  7. Thursday 4th October 2012 at 2:27 pm

    At least one of the reasons for this is the large (and increasing) discrepency between the grant available to the family and the cost of the funeral. The most that can be claimed through the DWP is about £1,400. If you have no money, it doesn’t matter if you are expected to find £8,000 or £800…you’re still stuck!

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