Bereaved parents will no longer face hundreds of pounds of council charges to bury their children, the Scottish Government has announced.
Campaigners have hailed the SNP administration’s decision to put aside £500,000 per year to fund the abolition of local authority burial fees for under 18s across Scotland, easing the growing financial pressure on parents.
It follows similar decisions in Wales and England, which would have left a handful of councils across Scotland as the last places where parents would face a fee to bury their child.
Communities Secretary Angela Constance said the government would work with local authorities through COSLA to end the fees.
“The death of a child is one of the most tragic experiences that anyone can go through,” Ms Constance said. “At such difficult times, it is important that we look to support parents and families.”
Critics called the fees a ‘postcode lottery’, with costs and age thresholds varying across the nine councils who issued charges at the start of 2018.
Depending on the individual circumstances, some charges exceeded £800. Two councils, East Lothian and Perth & Kinross, have already said they would abandon their fees.
Councillor Elena Whitham, the COSLA spokesperson for Community Wellbeing, said: “It is a truly awful to have to manage the burden of a funeral or cremation for a child.
“We are acutely aware that none of us plan for the financial costs because we don’t expect it to happen to our families. For some, any charges can lead to high cost borrowing and financial crisis.
“We are pleased to work together with the Scottish Government to ensure that all local authorities can fully commit to removing their charges for the burial or cremation of those aged under 18.”
Michael McGuire from Fort William, who was forced to return to work three days after the death of his baby son Kyle a decade ago because of the financial pressure of paying for the funeral, welcomed the announcement as a “special day”.
Mr McGuire, said: “I cannot describe how relieved as a bereaved parent this makes me feel. At a time of such harrowing pain, burial fees should be the last thing to worry about.”
The Welsh and UK Governments pledged to abolish interment fees for children following a campaign spearheaded in parliament by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who relied on money from neighbours and a bank loan when her eight year-old son Martin was killed in a road accident in 1989.
Ms Harris, who wrote to Nicola Sturgeon asking her to intervene, said the move would “bring relief to families at a time when they are feeling unbelievable pain and heartache.”
Clare Laxton, associate director at child cancer charity CLIC Sargent, said: “This act will help families going through a deeply traumatic time, who should not have to also deal with the massive financial stresses that paying for funerals cause.
“We would like to thank The Scotsman for championing this important issue and helping us to make real change happen for other families.”
Scottish Labour communities spokeswoman Monica Lennon welcomed the announcement, but added: “It was disappointing to see the SNP Government playing catch up on this issue, with the fees already waived in England and Wales after a spirited campaign by Labour MP Carolyn Harris.
“SNP ministers must honour this commitment and ensure Scotland’s councils have the funds to remove the burden of child burial fees from bereaved parents."