'Paupers' funeral' costs rise by 30% in five years

A coffin Image copyright Thinkstock

The cost of so-called paupers' funerals to Welsh councils has risen by almost 30% to more than £90,000 in five years.

The number being carried out has also risen - from 67 in 2009-10 to 81 in 2013-14 - an increase of 17%.

Public health funerals, as they are known, happen when a person dies alone or has no relatives who can pay.

Councils spent £92,619 in 2013-14, up from £66,245 in 2009-10, and recovered £27,031 and £47,408 respectively from dead peoples' estates.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Local Radio revealed that across the UK, councils spent £1.7m on public health funerals in 2013-14.

Izzi Seccombe, of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "It is a sad fact that there are thousands of people across the country with no family or friends to arrange, attend or pay for their funeral."

The average cost of the funerals rose from £924 to £1,324 in this time, dropping to £585 and £619 once the money recovered is taken into account.

Sandra Evans, assistant director of bereavement services at Cardiff council, has been searching the home of Sandra Horner to sort out her personal effects.

The former head teacher was 67 when she died - she was divorced and had no children.

"It's always quite sad. You see how a person lived, and you come across letters and photographs... a little insight into what their life was like," said Ms Evans.

With no close family still alive, it is the council that has to arrange and pay for Ms Horner's cremation.

Ms Evans said public health funerals used to be a last resort - used mainly for the homeless - but they are becoming more common.

Ms Horner was cremated at a simple service attended by about 12 of her friends.

Mark Woollard, from the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, said: "I think there's been an increase in public health funerals because people don't have as much disposable income, and also, people are living longer and alone," he said.

"A lot of [the cost] is due to third-party costs such as crematorium fees, cemetery fees, and the minster's fees - [which] have gone up much more than the funeral directors' costs."

Most people who have a pauper's funeral are buried or cremated with no gravestone or lasting physical memorial.

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