Council across Scotland spent an estimated £500,000 on “paupers’ funerals” in the past year, a new report has shown.
The study found national assistance funerals – which are carried out by local authorities when no family can be traced for the deceased or the family are unable to make funeral arrangements – have increased by 24 per cent in Scotland in the past four years.
A total of 549 were carried out in 2015, up 24 per cent from 2011.
Researchers found that in the 2004-6 period, national assistance funerals were split 49 per cent to 51 per cent between people with no traceable next of kin and those whose relatives could not afford or were unwilling to pay for a funeral, for the 12 local authorities that provided data. Between 2013-15, this had increased to 73 per cent where relatives were unable or unwilling to pay and 27 per cent whose next of kin could not be found.
Stirling Citizens Advice Bureau, which carried out the report, is calling for a review of funeral costs and a standard national price for burials.
It claimed bereaved Scots currently face a “postcode lottery” as a report earlier this year found costs varied by up to £1,552 between councils.
Report author David Robertson said: “Across the UK the cost of a basic burial has risen for 12 years in a row and now stands at an average of £3,693. That’s a more than 90 per cent increase since 2004.
“Most families will struggle to meet that kind of cost, particularly if the bereavement is sudden and they have not been planning for it.
“Low-income families in particular, who are finding it hard just to pay their food and fuel bills, can suddenly face a bill for several thousands of pounds which they simply can’t pay.
“Our research in this report finds that it is often councils who have to step in and pay these costs, as well as the cost of burying those who die without any relatives to bury them.
“We think it is time for a serious review of funeral poverty as a whole, including the issue of national assistance funerals and support for low-income families.
“We also believe there should be a single national price for a basic burial in Scotland so that bereaved families know where they stand, and are not discriminated against because of where they happen to live.”