Special report: Rising costs and the increasing numbers of 'paupers' funerals' in Doncaster

Rose Hill Crematorium in Cantley
Rose Hill Crematorium in Cantley

Doncaster Council are having to carry out more public health funerals because people are unable or unwilling to pay.

Freedom of Information figures show the local authority had to spend £554,000 in the last five years on 396 funerals for Doncaster residents - costing the taxpayer on average £1,400 per service.

'Paupers' funerals' - as they are more commonly know by - are held when a person does not have a family who can organise a funeral, so the funds and organisation must be provided by the local authority under law.

The services do not include flowers, viewings, obituaries or transport for family members. People cannot choose the funeral director or the date or time of the funeral. Burials may take place in an unmarked graved shared with other people.

From 2013, statistics show Doncaster Council carried out 69 funerals at a cost of £96,600 and peaked to 89 services costing £124,600 in 2016 - a 29 per cent rise.

Latest figures show the council carried out 80 funerals in 2017.

President of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said: "We do know that a combination of changes in society as people become estranged from or outliving relatives, together with many people still being uncomfortable planning for their funeral, and economic issues affecting household incomes and the ability to save, can all be factors leading to a public health funeral being required."

Ms Pattenden queried Doncaster's latest figures and suggested the council had raised it's own burial and cremation fees in the past few years.

"Doncaster Council reported that 140 public health funerals across the previous three years had cost £130,000 – an average of £928.57 each," she added.

"From the figures provided today, Doncaster Council says it has spent £554,000 on 396 pauper's funerals in the last five years – an average of £1,389.89, so the average cost to the council per public health funeral has risen by almost 50% in the past few years.

"Given that funeral directors provide their services for carrying out public health funerals under fixed-term, fixed-price council contracts, the NAFD wonders what is driving these cost increases - could the council’s own burial/cremation fee rises be a factor?”

Dave Wilkinson, assistant director of trading and property services for Doncaster Council, said: “We believe that everyone who passes away has the right to a respectful funeral, whether they can afford it or not.

"Every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to make arrangements for the funeral when a person has died in circumstances where the family is unable to be traced, or no funeral arrangements have been made for that person.

"We always allow the family of those who have passed away to attend and take away the ashes of their loved one for a small fee.”

The costs in full

2013 - 69 funerals costing £96,600

2014 - 71 funerals costing £99,400

2015 - 87 funerals costing £121,800

2016 - 89 funerals costing £124,600

2017 - 80 funerals costing £112,000