Rising cost of Yorkshire's public health funerals

Public health and council bosses have insisted so-called paupers' funerals are a last 'resort' and that authorities make every effort to recover fees from estates, as new data reveals the rising costs facing taxpayers.

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More than 1,500 public health funerals, for families who cannot afford the cost of burials or cremations themselves or people who died without next of kin, were organised by nine of the region’s biggest councils between 2013 and 2018. A further 847 were arranged by Yorkshire’s acute NHS hospital trusts for those who died in hospital without funds or family to cover fees, bringing the total to at least 2,500 since 2013, according to figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post.

It cost cash-strapped local authorities and the NHS more than £3m during the five-year period to cover the funeral fees, half of which was paid by councils in the region, analysis of the data shows.

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Leeds, owing to its size, collectively arranged 716 public health funerals between 2013 and 2018.

The city also racked up the highest fees in the region, as Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust paid out £675,000, while it cost Leeds City Council £575,000. Meanwhile, the hospital trust organised 84 public health funerals, at a cost of £171,305, in 2017.

Despite organising just four more funerals than 2016, the cost to the NHS rose by nearly £40,000, which it said was due to an increase in burials, which are more costly.

Krystina Kozlowska, the trust’s head of patient experience, said: “We pay the cost of a public health funeral when someone sadly dies in hospital and either doesn’t have any relatives or anyone who is able to pay for their funeral.

“When arranging the funeral we try to replicate what we believe the person would have wanted including funerals that support religious or personal beliefs.

“Every effort is made to reclaim expenses from the person’s estate where possible.”

The council arranged 62 funerals last year, totalling £111,000.

A council spokesman said: “While we would hope when someone dies there would be either family or friends to help make the arrangements, sadly this is not always the case.”

Bradford Council ranked third in terms of biggest bills, according to the data, at £383,000, while York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust paid £256,700.

In South Yorkshire, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust arranged 135 paupers’ funerals at a cost of £101,000.

Dr David Throssell, the trust’s medical director, said it cared for more than two million patients-a-year, and it was “inevitable” that the trust would have more people who died without funds or family, compared with smaller hospitals.

“However we do go to great lengths to try and identify a source of funding for a person’s funeral costs and we will only resort to a publicly-funded funeral when every other possibility has been exhausted,” he added.

Elsewhere, Hull City Council, which did not disclose the cost, arranged 179 public health funerals, while York Council 
organised 81 and paid out about £50,000.

A York Council spokeswoman said: “We provide dignity and solemnity to those who die in the city with no-one to bury them.”

The Yorkshire Post approached the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors for comment.

MAJOR PROBE NOW LAUNCHED

ABOUT 90 per cent of the public health funerals in Yorkshire over the last five years were cremations, analysis of the figures shows.

Meanwhile, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) watchdog, which last month completed a six-month study into the rising costs of cremations nationally, has said it preparing to launch a major investigation into the industry.

Calls have been made for the funeral industry – worth an estimated £2bn-a-year – to be regulated based on the CMA’s findings. While the number of cremations has fast outstripped burials over the last decade nationally, “limited choices” have led to fees being hiked up by almost 85 per cent.