Councils ‘are making a killing out of funerals’

LOCAL authorities have been 
accused of “making a profit out of people dying” after a Church of Scotland report highlighted the spiralling cost of funeral services.

Fiigures show the average increase for both interment and cremation is up 47 per cent. Picture: Andrew Stuart

New figures show the average increase for both interment and cremation across the country is up 47 per cent from five years ago. In some areas, charges have increased by 300 per cent in the past five years.

According to figures supplied by the Kirk, and provided by 30 out of 32 local authorities, the current average combined cost of a lair and interment is £1,060, compared with £721 five years ago.

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The largest increase in cost for the purchase of a lair in the last five years was in South Lanarkshire, which rose from £230.50 to £1,120. The combined cost of lair and interment in South Lanarkshire now comes to £1,883 – compared with £422 five years ago.

Clergy have spoken of their frustration at rising costs. Rev Bryan Kerr, depute presbytery clerk of the presbytery of Lanark, said: “As a parish minister, I continue to be concerned about the high charges levied at families in times of bereavement. In our area, costs have trebled in the last five years – three times the Scottish average. I remain to be convinced that local authorities are not making a profit out of people dying.”

The local authority also had the steepest rise in cremation costs, from £334 in 2009 to £583 now, a rise of 75 per cent.

Councils have insisted that costs have risen in part to pay for maintenance and ground servicing, along with ageing cemeteries which need more spent on them than in the past.

Stephen Kelly, head of facilities, waste and grounds services at South Lanarkshire Council, said: “We operate two forms of bereavement service – cremation and a traditional burial service – 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 with few residual costs.

“A traditional burial service requires a continual ground maintenance service and an obligation to maintain extensive cemetery infrastructure.”

Shetland also saw a steep increase for the cost of burials, from £200 five years ago to £721, while cremation costs in Glasgow have risen by almost 68 per cent, from £331 in 2009 to £556 now.

Edinburgh City Council showed a rise of 31 per cent in the cost of interment over the past five years, from £733 to £957, while the cost of a burial plot rose 24 per cent from £881 to £1,091 over the same period.

Highland Council’s interment costs went from £356 in 2009 to £468 now, while lair costs rose 30 per cent, from £251 to £342.

The issue of funeral costs was highlighted during 2013’s General Assembly, when Lanark presbytery raised concerns about the cost of burial, prompting a further, more detailed examination of the problem by the Kirk, which will come before the General Assembly when it is held in Edinburgh next month.

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the church and society council, said the rising costs could force vulnerable and grieving loved-ones to go into debt. She said: “These significant rises in cost have the potential to put a huge strain on people at a time when they are already dealing with the loss of a loved one.”

The church has met representatives of the National Association of Funeral Directors to look at the issues raised and to explore ways to support bereaved families.”