Church of Scotland to investigate cost of burials

David McColl leads out Moderator Lorna Hood and Lord Douglas of Selkirk. Picture: Lesley Martin
David McColl leads out Moderator Lorna Hood and Lord Douglas of Selkirk. Picture: Lesley Martin
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THE Church of Scotland is to investigate the spiralling cost of burials, after concerns were raised about a local authority which is charging more than £1,800.

The Kirk’s Church and Society Council is to address the issue of so-called “funeral poverty” caused by the sharp rise in the cost of burial plots and other associated charges. The move was prompted by the experience of the Rev Sarah Ross, minister of Forth St Paul’s Parish Church in South Lanarkshire.

She said that her local authority demanded £1,883 up front to carry out a burial – £1,120 to buy the lair then £763 to “open it”.

This represents a 183 per cent rise in South Lanarkshire over the cost of burial in 2009, and compares to a cost of a cremation in a council-run crematorium of just £565.

A single lair can hold three caskets, with a charge of £763 for each of the subsequent two occasions that the plot is reopened.

Ms Ross accused the council of acting in a “mercenary” way.

“I’ve asked for a nationwide investigation to see whether what we experience locally is represented across the country,” she said. “In my area, I believe that the council is targeting vulnerable people at the most vulnerable time to make money the easiest possible way.

“Burials are an important part of life in many parts of Scotland and we are concerned that people will feel they have no choice but to use crematoria more and more.” She added that rural communities were particularly affected, as cemeteries are often closer than the nearest crematorium, not only for the funeral service but also for family to visit afterwards.

By comparison, Scottish Borders charges a combined cost of £1,000, and Moray, which has a combined tariff of £978 and charges £770 for cremation.

The Kirk fears that its investigation will reveal that a postcode lottery for burial costs has developed across the country.

Depute Clerk of Lanark Presbytery, Rev Bryan Kerr backed Ms Ross. “We are concerned that local authorities are charging what seems to us to be exorbitant fees for burials,” he said.

He said some families may put off burying their loved ones because they cannot raise upfront costs of burial.

South Lanarkshire Council defended its costs by explaining that cemeteries require upkeep. A council spokeswoman said: “South Lanarkshire Council operates two forms of bereavement service – cremation and a traditional burial service – thus giving families a choice.

“Both of these bereavement services are essentially different in terms of how they are provided. Cremation incurs cost predominantly at the point of service and with few residual costs.

“On the other hand, traditional burial service requires a continual ground maintenance service within a cemetery which carries obligation to maintain its extensive infrastructure.”

The Kirk last investigated burial costs in 1998, when the then Church and Nation Committee published a report Debt and Dying encouraging all involved in the undertaking profession, including cemetery and crematorium owning authorities, to assist relatives and friends in avoiding needless expenditure which may lead to debt.

The Church and Society Council was charged by the Assembly on Thursday to report back next year with a view to making recommendations on how to tackle the issue.