Rising number of ‘pauper’s funerals’ for those too poor to pay in Doncaster

Rose Hill Crematorium.
Rose Hill Crematorium.
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Doncaster Council has had to pay for more than 140 ‘paupers’ funerals’ in less than three years because there is either no-one willing or able to pay for the service.

The authority paid out for 50 funerals in 2012/13, 44 in 2013/14 and 47 so far this year – spending more than £130,000 providing the cremations and burials.

The town has held the highest number of ‘public health funerals’ in the whole of South Yorkshire, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed.

One Doncaster funeral director, who has been arranging services in the borough for more than 40 years, said many bereaved relatives on low-incomes or benefits are having to face up to the stark reality of asking for a council-funded funeral.

Richard Walker, 64, who runs three funeral parlours in Bentley, Balby and Thorne, said: “It can be difficult for relatives to ask for these type of funerals but we always afford these type of services the same amount of respect as any another funerals.”

He added people should plan for the cost of their funeral earlier, while the Government could also introduce a small increase in national insurance payments to ensure everybody has a fund to cover the costs of their service.

“They used to be called paupers’ funerals and everybody got a death grant which was a payment that covered some of the cost but this was stopped about 20 years ago. Some people did not need this but the Government could look at re-introducing a means-tested version of this for poorer people.

“A small national insurance increase could also be a way around it. But the best thing to do is to have a little think about it and put some money away to cover it.”

He added most council-funded funerals take place either early in the morning or late in the evening.

“Even if no relatives are there everybody has a right to the same respect and dignity when they die. The world has changed and very often families live far and wide across the country and abroad rather than all in the same town. People sometimes lose touch so I can see why there has been an increase.”

Across South Yorkshire, more than £235,000 has been spent on public health funerals by Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley councils since 2012.

A spokesman for Doncaster Council said the authority usually pays for a cremation, at a cost of £700, but will pay for a burial if there are ‘religious preferences which must be observed’.

He added the authority recoups about 40 per cent of what they pay out as relatives or well-wishes often find money after the service has taken place and repay this back to the council.

Councillor Christine Mills, cabinet member for housing, environment and waste, said: “There are a variety of reasons why a person or their family may be unable to pay for their funeral costs.

“While in such circumstances local authorities have a legal duty to provide this service, we are proud as a council to ensure that even those with no means are provided dignity at the end of their lives.”