Bankruptcy from bereavement: Scottish funeral costs triple

(Photo: Nat Arnett)

A new report from the Church of Scotland warns that funeral costs have increased by 300 per cent in some areas over the last five years.

The average increase across Scotland was found to be 62 per cent from 2009, with a 36 per cent rise from 2011.

The greatest rise was seen in South Lanarkshire, which prompted a plea for investigation in 2013 by Reverend Sarah Ross, Minister of Forth St Paul's Parish Church.

In the 2013 General Assembly, Rev Ross asked for a nationwide investigation to find out whether their experience was being replicated across the country.

"In my area, I believe that the council is targeting vulnerable people at the most vulnerable time to make money the easiest possible way," she said.  

Depute Clerk of Lanark Presbytery, Reverend Bryan Kerr, said in 2013 that given the situation of cost for burials, it was unsurprising many were opting for cremation.

"Current costs in South Lanarkshire are over £1,880 to purchase a lair and have a loved one buried within it, compared to around £490 for a cremation," he said.  

These costs however only apply to religious funerals. The South Lanarkshire Council website reports that for civil, secular funerals, the cost is £125 if held on a week day, and £202 if held on a Saturday. There is no cost levied for the burial of stillborn children.

Rev Kerr said: "In our area, costs have trebled in the last five years - three times the Scottish average. I remain to be convinced that local authorities are not making a profit out of people dying."

Stephen Kelly, head of the Council's Facilities, Waste & Grounds Services, defended his council's actions: "A traditional burial service requires a continual ground maintenance service and an obligation to maintain extensive cemetery infrastructure.

"South Lanarkshire Council has 55 cemeteries and we are currently progressing our investment of £1.82m in cemetery extensions and infrastructure over 2014/17. Investment in future burial facilities remains a key objective of the Council."

Convener of the Church and Society Council, Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton said: "These significant rises in cost have the potential to put a huge strain on people at a time when they are already dealing with the loss of a loved one.

"At a time when welfare reforms are causing many more families to struggle financially, we are also concerned that those who can least afford it will suffer most and pressure to 'do right by their loved one' could put them in debt."

The Church of Scotland has announced that it will be meeting with the National Association of Funeral Directors to look at ways to resolve the situation.

The aim of these meetings is to engage in "strategic, joined-up thinking that leads to solutions that alleviate added strain on grieving families".

Ian Brown, a funeral director in Carstairs Village in South Lanarkshire, welcomed the Church's input.

"In the last four years, funeral costs have trebled. This puts financial strain on families who are also having to deal with losing a loved one.

"It is good to see the Church of Scotland taking a stand on this issue as their influence can make an impact."

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