Dying becomes more expensive as cremation costs increase

THE cost of dying in Britain has more than doubled over the past decade as local councils raise the prices of cremations by inflation-busting levels.

A study by the Yorkshire Post has revealed that the cost of being cremated has increased by 117 per cent since 2001.

Cremation remains the cheapest option for bereaved families, chosen following more than two-thirds of deaths in the UK.

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The average cost of basic cremation – without any additional costs such as the hire of a chapel – is now £546, up from £252 a decade ago. Not even the price of fuel has risen so quickly over the past 10 years.

The figures also reveal a postcode lottery of cemetery and crematorium fees, with residents in some parts of Yorkshire forced to pay prices more than 40 per cent higher than in other areas.

Harrogate emerges as the most expensive place to be cremated in the region, with a basic cremation now costing £672 – the third-highest in England and Wales.

York is close behind with £665, making it one of the 10 most expensive places in the country to die.

In contrast, a basic cremation at Hull costs £477.

The figures have sparked concern as bereaved families have little choice but to pay the price stipulated by their local authority. Councils review and agree their prices at the start of each financial year.

Alex Bird, chief officer of Age UK North Yorkshire, said: “We do have contact with bereaved elderly people who have perhaps lost a partner and are shocked by how much it now costs. Until it affects you, many people don’t realise how much the prices have increased.

“It’s very sad when sometimes you hear from people who have put money aside ,but when it actually comes to it they find it isn’t anywhere near enough.

“Age UK has actually now started offering pre-paid funeral packages to try to deal with exactly this problem – so that you can rest assured that everything is already sorted out and paid for.”

One of the key reasons for soaring prices has been the introduction of strict new rules governing emissions from crematoria.

In 2005, the previous Labour government announced every facility must be fitted with a new filtering system to limit emissions of mercury, which are released when tooth fillings are vapourised.

Mercury is highly poisonous and Ministers said that without new filters, mercury emissions would have risen by two-thirds by 2020. The new rules come into effect at the end of next year.

The Government was warned at the time the legislation was announced that the expensive new filters, which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds each, would cause prices to soar.

“Obviously councils have had to cover the huge cost of these things,” said Roger Arber, secretary of the Cremation Society of Great Britain.

“Those that don’t have them fitted have agreed to be part of an emissions trading scheme, and so they have to pay out more as well.

“The average price of a cremation also has to cover the upkeep of the buildings, the staffing levels, fuel costs and the running of what is a substantial piece of equipment.”

However, the strict new standards do not explain the glaring disparities between different parts of the region.

Harrogate Borough Council, which charges more than almost anywhere else in the country for cremations, said it has been investing in an array of new facilities to ensure residents receive a first-class service and insisted it still offers value for money.

Cabinet member Coun Nick Brown said: “The council’s fees and charges are spread across all the bereavement service which, as well as the only crematorium in the district, includes 10 cemeteries and the responsibility for maintaining 13 closed churchyards.

“Costs have gone up, and some of that is due to external pressures such as rising energy charges and government legislation. We were one of the first councils in the country to bring in measures to make a 50 per cent reduction in mercury emission by 2012.

“We installed the filtration system to both our cremators early in 2007, knowing that costs would rise, and there would be pressure on the manufacturers as more councils sought to comply ready for next year. It cost this council about £500,000 at 2007 prices.”

Coun Brown said the authority was also “investing for the future” with a new £200,000 cemetery in Ripon and a major upgrade of facilities at Knaresborough.

“I am comfortable that our charges provide value for money for our residents and ensure that the facilities are maintained at the highest level,” he said.

Nonetheless, the regional disparities are glaring.

Residents in Hull pay almost £200 less for a basic cremation than their counterparts in Harrogate.

Hull’s crematorium was only built a few years ago, and the Cremation Society suggested such facilities may be cheaper to run.

Mr Arber said: “Some of these crematoria are very old buildings, and can be very expensive to run.”

Hull City Council said it was delighted to learn its prices are significantly lower than other parts of the region. Councillor John Hewitt, Hull’s portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and communities, said: “Our priority is to support those who have lost a loved one and ensure we deliver a sensitive service.”