A Freedom of Information request on public health funerals has revealed that 21 local councils did not return ashes from public health funerals to families.
The request, submitted by Royal London insurance group, also discovered 18 councils charged bereaved families for ashes to be returned. Reasons given for the charge included the cost of the urn to the council or collection costs.
In 2018/2019, councils spent £6.3m on public health funerals, which are funerals arranged by the local council of the deceased when there is no traceable or available family. The average cost of a public health funeral was £1,507.
Almost a third of public health funerals took place because families could not afford the costs.
When asked if they would allow family to attend a public health funeral, 14 councils said they would not, saying that “there is no service provided by the council for a family to attend”.
Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “It’s incredibly sad when bereaved families have no choice but to seek a public health funeral.
“But when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear that they are being treated unfairly.”
She added: “It’s about time the system was overhauled, and we’re calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one’s ashes.”
Royal London is now calling on the government for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals.