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Royal London calls for overhaul of ‘unfair’ public health funeral system

A third of public health funerals take place because families can’t afford the cost

Royal London is calling for an overhaul of the UK’s public health funeral system after research found many families are being treated unfairly.

The mutual insurer’s Freedom of Information requests found 21 councils in the UK do not return ashes to the family after a cremation and 18 councils charge bereaved families for the ashes to be returned.

A public health funeral is arranged by the allocated local council of the deceased when there is no traceable family, or the family is unable or unwilling to arrange and pay for a funeral.

Of the councils who explained why they charge for ashes to be returned to families, reasons included the cost of the urn to the council or a collection cost.

Royal London also asked local councils if they allow family members to attend a public health funeral. Of those who responded, 261 councils allow family members to attend and 14 do not.

The total spend on public health funerals in 2018/19 was £6.3m, with more than 4,000 public health funerals taking place. The average cost of a public health funeral to local councils was £1,507.

Nearly a third (29%) of public health funerals were undertaken by local councils because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, argued that when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear they are being treated unfairly.

“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,” she said.