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Rising funeral costs and family breakdown leads to ‘pauper’s funeral’ increase

A study by insurers Royal London has found that the number of public health funerals and the average cost of a public health funeral for local councils has risen in the last five years.

The data is based on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted to 390 local authorities in the UK.  

A public health funeral, also known as a ‘pauper’s funeral’, is held by a local authority if the deceased has no family or the family are unable to cover the cost of the funeral.

Royal London’s National Funeral Cost Index also found that there were growing levels of funeral poverty as families struggled to meet the rising costs of a service.

With the average cost for a basic funeral running at £3,784, many families go into debt, with 16% taking on an average debt of £1,680. Local authorities will take on the cost of the funeral if family members are unable to contribute due to a lack of funds, or if they are not present.

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FoI data from 260 local authorities shows there were 3,784 public health funerals across the UK in the financial year 2015/16. The total cost of these funerals amounted to £4m.

Some 211 councils provided data on public health funerals both for the financial years 2011/12 and 2015/16.

This revealed that the number of public health funerals has increased by 12% over the last five years. Councils in the East of England saw the biggest percentage increase in public health funerals in the last five years, at 36%.

The total cost of public health funerals to councils across the UK increased by 36% in the last five years.

The cost of public health funerals varied regionally across the UK; West Midlands had the highest cost, with more than £900,000 being spent on funerals in 2015/16.

London local authorities saw a 51% increase in the average cost of a funeral, with a public health funeral costing local authorities an average of £1,004 in 2015/16 compared to £666 in 2011/12.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “It is always upsetting when the deceased has no family to arrange a funeral, or when their family simply cannot afford one.

“In these cases, local councils take on the responsibility of paying for a funeral and it’s evident  that councils are facing increasing pressure to accommodate the rising number of public health funerals in the UK. With one in six people struggling to pay for funeral costs, urgent action is needed by the Government to tackle rising funeral poverty.”

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