A SOUTH Tyneside gran says she owns her family’s memorial tree – and she has the receipt to prove it.
Margaret Lindsay was horrified to discover many relatives who have memorial trees at South Shields Crematorium had received letters from South Tyneside Council demanding £400 in sponsorship fees to be paid by January 31 or they could face losing them.
The Gazette revealed on Monday, how the council’s bereavement team had issued about 150 letters to people – many who thought they owned the trees – asking for a renewed payment after saying their 10-year sponsorship of the trees had expired.
The letter also said families not wishing to pay the fee would lose the trees – and memorial plaques attached to them – to others.
But council chiefs later told the Gazette they would delay payment demands and apologised for any upset over the sensitive issue, while promising to carry out a review into the scheme. And today they issued a further statement to clarify matters, saying that the first 200 families who obtained a tree in the mid-1990s do own them ‘for life’, while a further 139 simply sponsor them for a fixed period after the scheme was revised in 1998.
Mrs Lindsay, of Callum Drive, South Shields, became distressed after learning letters had been sent out to families, so found the receipt for the silver birch she purchased in 1994 in memory of her parents, George and Margaret Wastell, which made no mention of a sponsorship.
Mrs Lindsay, who hadn’t received a bill from the council, said: “Originally we thought it would be a lovely idea to get my parents a tree in their memory, so we did in 1994.
“Then sadly when my brother George passed away in January, the family paid £117 for his plaque just last month.
“Nowhere on the original receipt, or last month when we visited the crematorium in person, was it mentioned that we only sponsor a tree, so I was horrified to read that families were receiving letters asking for £400 in renewal of fees. As far as we were concerned, we owned the tree outright and the family has found this very distressing so soon after the death of my brother.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council confirmed Mrs Lindsay was part of the initial ‘for life’ buyers, adding: “The first 200 memorial trees planted at the crematorium were offered for sale on a ‘for life’ basis.
“As demand was greater than anticipated, the scheme was revised in 1998 in order to ensure its sustainability.
“Under the revised scheme, trees were instead offered on a fixed-term lease basis and this was made clear to the 139 families that took up this offer at the time.
“The lease has expired but we have decided to delay the implementation of the renewal scheme to allow us to carry out a full review of the scheme.
“Families that have already paid the fees to extend their lease will be offered the option of a refund or alternatively, we will delay the start of their new lease period while the review is carried out.”