Grief-stricken families will count the cost

A MORPETH funeral director has accused a council of cashing in on grieving families for sending funeral costs soaring.

Northumberland County Council wrote to funeral directors last week to inform them of huge rises in the cost of cremations, burials and graves, with immediate effect.

The move sees a standard charge for cremation increase from £407 to £580, marking a 43 per cent rise.

However, burial fees have gone up by an even greater margin, with a 49 per cent increase.

The cost of preparing a single depth grave has gone from £362 to £540, while for a double depth grave it has increased from £389 to £580.

There is a similar price hike for buying a grave, which families must do if they wish to erect a headstone. Now it costs £570 for a single depth grave, up from £383, and £620 for a double depth grave from £415.

The increases mean that standard burial charges with a grave will go up almost 50 per cent, from £804 to £1,200.

Morpeth Funeral Director Alan Beal, of JW Peters, is disgusted at the changes.

“They are just taking advantage of the vulnerable. People are in a very vulnerable situation when a loved one dies and the council is taking advantage of it,” he said.

“People don’t have any choice about paying these charges and it is a huge increase.

“The council says they have to go up because of the mercury fee for cremations, but that is total rubbish because it has put the burial charge up by nearly 50 per cent and there could be no reason for that.

“There are two charges, one for digging the grave and one for purchasing the grave, but if you want a headstone you have to purchase the grave so everybody does that.

“This will cause a lot of hardship. People are going to be paying so much extra and by the time they get a headstone and burial, people just won’t be able to afford it.”

Mr Beal is also angry that funeral directors were given no notice of the increases and only found out when they came into force.

However, after contacting the council, it was agreed that funerals already booked could go ahead at the previous rates.

“We just got a letter in the post saying that the charges for burials and cremations for the county had gone up. There was no notice at all,” said Mr Beal.

“I got in touch with the council and somebody rang me back and said there would be no extra charges for the funerals already booked I had to phone up three or four times, but they eventually backed down.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Like other local authorities across the country, we are currently reviewing charges to ensure that this service continues to be sustainable whilst providing value for money.

“Our charges have compared favourably with neighbouring authorities and this review will bring Northumberland in line with charges across the region.”