Fam­i­lies hit by 50pc hike in the price of funer­als

Daily Mail - - Money Mail - By James Salmon j.salmon@dai­lymail.co.uk

COUN­CILS are ramp­ing up the amount they charge for funer­als and cre­ma­tions by as much as 50 pc in a shame­less raid on griev­ing fam­i­lies.

Ex­perts say there has never been a more ex­pen­sive time to die.

The cost of buri­als has in­creased by as much as half over the past year to around £2,000 as lo­cal au­thor­i­ties try to off­set the im­pact of swinge­ing bud­get cuts.

Ba­sic charges at coun­cil- run cre­ma­to­ri­ums have also soared by as much as 30 pc in that time.

MPs have re­ferred pri­vate fu­neral op­er­a­tors Dig­nity and the Co-op to the com­pe­ti­tion watch­dog over fears their stran­gle­hold on the mar­ket en­ables them to ratchet up prices.

But the rev­e­la­tion that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are driv­ing up their charges so ag­gres­sively has in­fu­ri­ated MPs, who have ac­cused them of im­pos­ing a hid­den tax on the be­reaved.

The av­er­age cost for a fu­neral in the UK is £3,700. This pays for ev­ery­thing from burial or cre­ma­tion costs to rent­ing lim­ou­sines for the fam­ily and hir­ing a min­is­ter for the ser­vice.

Most peo­ple em­ploy a fu­neral di­rec­tor to ar­range the day for them, who typ­i­cally pays th­ese fees and passes them on to the cus­tomer.

Half of the av­er­age fu­neral bill goes on ba­sic burial costs — pay­ing a gravedig­ger and buy­ing the lease of a grave plot with the right to erect a head­stone.

Cre­ma­tion is typ­i­cally cheaper, but the ba­sic costs of us­ing the cre­ma­to­rium still ac­count for a third of a fu­neral bill.

When a coun­cil hikes its charges for burial and cre­ma­tion, the im­pact on griev­ing fam­i­lies is dev­as­tat­ing.

Mil­ton Keynes coun­cil has in­creased its ba­sic charges from £ 1,460 to £ 2,100 at eight ceme­ter­ies — an in­crease of just un­der 44 pc.

Mean­while, Wat­ford Coun­cil has ratch­eted up charges by 49.1 pc from £1,325 to £1,975, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures com­piled for Money Mail by Funer­al­booker, a price com­par­i­son web­site.

‘When there is a death in the fam­ily, all sorts of peo­ple put their hands in your pock­ets and try to take ad­van­tage,’ says Mark Garnier, a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of the Trea­sury Com­mit­tee.

‘ When you have suf­fered a be­reave­ment, your abil­ity to fight your cor­ner is mas­sively re­duced, giv­ing the provider a big ad­van­tage.’

Coun­cils have been forced to slash their bud­gets as the Gov­ern­ment tries to fix the na­tion’s fi­nances.

Mil­ton Keynes coun­cil told Money Mail it has in­creased prices ‘from a low-cost base’ in line with other coun­cils and pri­vate fu­neral homes.

It said it had not in­creased burial fees for chil­dren, de­spite ‘ fac­ing in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sures due to re­duced fund­ing’. But the coun­cil’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the huge price hikes is not borne out by the fig­ures, as it charges far more than neigh­bour­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Northamp­ton Bor­ough coun­cil charges £ 884 for buri­als at Towces­ter Road ceme­tery, while Lu­ton Bor­ough coun­cil charges £ 1,345 at The Vale ceme­tery. ‘Cuts in fund­ing may mean coun­cils are turn­ing to the cre­ma­to­ri­ums and ceme­ter­ies to bal­ance the books,’ says James Dunn of Funer­al­booker. ‘Th­ese prices could be a hid­den cost of aus­ter­ity.’ The price of funer­als varies hugely across the coun­try. For buri­als, London is by far the most ex­pen­sive, with four ceme­ter­ies in Wandsworth, South- West London, charg­ing £4,561. This is al­most 18 times the £ 255 fee charged by Cross Ceme­tery, run by Fer­managh & Omagh dis­trict coun­cil in North­ern Ire­land. Prices are set by coun­cils for pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties or by pri­vate firms such as Dig­nity, which owns 767 fu­neral homes and 39 cre­ma­to­ri­ums.

John Mann, a Labour mem­ber of the Trea­sury Com­mit­tee, says fu­neral costs should be capped. ‘This is a hid­den tax on griev­ing fam­i­lies and the dead. Th­ese in­creases are com­pletely out of order and should not be al­lowed,’ he says.

‘ Peo­ple have the right to be buried or cre­mated in the area where they have lived and not pe­nalised in this way by greedy coun­cils.’

It is not just lo­cal au­thor­i­ties that are cash­ing in. The ma­jor­ity of the most ex­pen­sive cre­ma­to­ri­ums are pri­vately run by Dig­nity, whose £2.4 mil­lion-ayear boss is Mike McCol­lum.

Dig­nity cre­ma­to­ri­ums in Beck­en­ham in Kent, Craw­ley and Chich­ester in West Sus­sex, and Nuneaton in War­wick­shire all charge £956. This is al­most three times the £364 charged at the City of Belfast Cre­ma­to­rium, which is the cheap­est place to be cre­mated.

A spokesman for Mil­ton Keynes coun­cil says: ‘We un­der­stand this is a very sen­si­tive sub­ject, of­ten at a dif­fi­cult time for fam­i­lies and loved ones, so we need to en­sure our ser­vice meets their ex­pec­ta­tions.

‘So, while we are fac­ing in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sures due to re­duced fund­ing, where we have had dis­cre­tion we have used it.’

A Dig­nity spokesman says: ‘We op­er­ate at the high end of the mar­ket and pro­vide ex­cel­lent client ser­vice and fa­cil­i­ties to care for the de­ceased.’

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