Coronavirus: Bodies 'could be left at hospital' amid virus finance fears

By Matt Precey
BBC Look East

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image captionFuneral director John O'Looney said his industry had been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic

A funeral director fears bodies could be left at hospitals because relatives cannot afford to instruct him during the coronavirus pandemic.

Milton Keynes-based John O'Looney said Britain's 'lockdown' had "affected every aspect" of his industry.

The National Association of Funeral Directors said it was in discussion with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about funeral expenses.

The DWP said it was increasing support for claimants from £700 to £1,000.

'Doubling grief'

Mr O'Looney, who runs Milton Keynes Family Funeral Services, said: "We seem to be so focused on creating extra fridge capacity (to store bodies) for victims of Covid-19 [but] we're not taking into account the victims of financial hardship who can't instruct anyone for a funeral.

"That's going to lead to a backlog in the hospitals."

Mr O'Looney also described the difficulties of conducting a funeral under the current restrictions.

"They're operating one chapel instead of two in the local crematorium and they've had to take all of the chairs out and just leave 10 chairs there.

"For me as a funeral director, it breaks my heart. I'm taking families and they're walking into a virtually empty room and it's kind of doubling their grief."

image captionWayne Smith says he cannot afford to collect his brother's body from Milton Keynes hospital

Wayne Smith's brother Shane died after an epileptic seizure in mid-March, but he cannot afford to collect the body after his work as a self-employed electrician dried up.

"My brother is in a morgue and I can't give him the decent send-off which he deserves," said Mr Smith.

He said he had applied for Universal Credit, but had had difficulty making a claim. He had also asked his local authority, Milton Keynes Council, for help.

The National Association of Funeral Directors said it had asked the DWP to introduce funeral grants and interest-free loans for those facing difficulty paying for a funeral.

In a statement, the DWP said it would be increasing funeral expenses payments from 8 April, the first such increase since 2003.

Separate allowances were available for funeral costs such as burial or cremation fees, it said.

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