South Tyneside Council among those charging for ashes for 'pauper funerals'
Local authorities are required to shoulder the cost of ‘no-frills’ public health funerals when a person either has no one else who can arrange one or who cannot afford the costs.
South Tyneside is one of 18 councils nationally requiring relatives to pay if they want to be able to take any ashes away afterwards.
A spokesman for the council said: “It is very sad that some people die without any known living relatives to celebrate their lives at their passing.
“Our staff work hard to trace relatives of the deceased but sometimes are unable to find anyone.
“When this happens the Local Authority or the hospital patient welfare service undertake to make arrangements for a funeral service, giving the due respect everyone deserves at the end of their lives.
“In the event that a family member contacts us in advance of the funeral to request the deceased’s cremated remains, then we would currently only charge £12 for the container that holds the ashes.”
The situation across the UK was revealed in a series of Freedom of Information requests by insurance giant Royal London to 400 local authorities.
This found 21 councils in the UK do not return ashes to families after a cremation, 18 charge bereaved families for the return of ashes and 14 do not allow family to attend.
In the North East, Newcastle City Council charges families for the return of ashes following public health funerals, while Gateshead will not return them to loved ones at all.
The council added: “Ashes are retained for 14 days following each funeral and if a request is received they would be ready for collection the following day.”
More than 4,000 public health funerals were held in 2018/19, costing the taxpayer £6.3 million at an average price of £1,507 per service.
Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “It’s about time the system was overhauled and we’re calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one’s ashes.”