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Shock rise of pauper burials

Borough of Great Yarmouth 
Magdalen Lawn Cemetery and Crematorium at Gorleston

Borough of Great Yarmouth Magdalen Lawn Cemetery and Crematorium at Gorleston

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Pauper burials across the borough have increased three-fold in the last decade.

The borough council has an obligation to conduct a funeral for anyone who dies without the means to pay for it.

Although they are given a dignified service, they could be buried in an unmarked common grave which could be used again in the future.

A report seen by councillors yesterday showed 302 of these funerals have taken place since 2007 at a cost of £355,069 to the borough.

Also known as a public health funeral, they typically cost the council in the region of £1,000 which includes funeral directors fees, cremation or burial costs and doctors’ fees if appropriate.

The guidance of the Institute of Cemeteries and Cremation Managers (ICCM) states that there should be dignity provided in death for all people – there should be no obvious differences between a ‘normal’ funeral and a public health funeral.

A basic service is provided, and if friends and relatives attend then a Church of England minister or a funeral director will say a few words.

The report added: “Frequently friends and relatives try to influence the proceedings requesting additions for example limousines, but these are never accommodated as the costs could be used to offset the funeral costs.

“The council does not subsidise funeral. Often this leads to angry exchanges with friends and relatives.”

Costs can be recovered by the council and in the same period over £200,000 was returned to the council from the deceased person’s estates.

The report continued: “It is very important for council officers to enter the property as soon as possible before personal papers, valuable items and cash etc are removed by others.

“Experience has shown that whilst friends and relatives may not pay for the funeral, there are people who will enter the deceased’s property and remove valuable items very soon after death.”

If the deceased lived alone council staff make arrangements to enter the home and remove valuable items “very soon” after death, including items like televisions, jewellery and cash.

In a statement, Great Yarmouth Borough Council said: “The term ‘pauper funeral’ is incorrect because lack of finance of the deceased is not the sole reason why suitable arrangements might not be in place for their funeral. The number of Public Health Act funerals fluctuates from year to year.

“While preserving the dignity of the dead person and adhering to the deceased’s wishes, including any religious wishes, in relation to whether they are buried or cremated, the council has a legal duty to arrange a basic cost-effective funeral on public health grounds.

“The same level of service is provided, regardless of whether the dead person has sufficient money or not. If there is an estate, the council always seeks to recover the full cost to the public of the funeral. In any given financial year, the council recovers about half of the costs it spends on Public Health Act funerals.

“The council does not subsidise privately-organised funerals – the council either organises the whole funeral or it does not. If a relative needs financial help to arrange a funeral, the borough council will signpost them. For example, if someone is on benefits, they can apply to the DWP for a funeral payment.”

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