08 January 2020

Revealed: Councils that don’t return ashes from a public health funeral

4 min read

 
Meera Khanna, Consumer PR Manager
Meera Khanna

Consumer PR Manager - Protection

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  • Freedom of Information (FOI) request on public health funerals reveals 21 local councils do not return ashes to families;
  • 18 councils charge bereaved families for ashes to be returned;
  • £6.3m was spent on public health funerals in 2018/19 by councils in the UK;
  • Royal London is calling for standard legislation on public health funerals

Royal London’s Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on public health funerals reveal that 21 councils in the UK by default do not return ashes to the family after a cremation funeral and 18 councils charge bereaved families for the ashes to be returned.

A public health funeral is arranged by the allocated local council of the deceased when there is no traceable family, or the family is unable or unwilling to arrange and pay for a funeral.

The mutual insurer sent out a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 400 local councils and 17 councils did not respond.

Of the councils who explained why they charge for ashes to be returned to families, reasons included the cost of the urn to the council or a collection cost.

Royal London asked local councils if they allow family members to attend a public health funeral.  Of those who responded, 261 councils allow family members to attend and 14 do not. Reasons given for not allowing family attendance included that there is no service provided by the council for a family to attend.

Cost of public health funerals

The total spend on public health funerals in the financial year 2018/19 was £6.3m, with more than 4,000 public health funerals taking place. The average cost of a public health funeral to local councils was £1,507.

Nearly a third (29%) of public health funerals were undertaken by local councils because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, said:

“It’s incredibly sad when bereaved families have no choice but to seek a public health funeral. But when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear that they are being treated unfairly. It’s about time the system was overhauled, and we’re calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one’s ashes.”

Royal London is calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals. Local councils in the UK should return ashes to traceable families free of charge if requested and should allow family members to attend a public health funeral.

Notes to Editors

1. Charnwood Borough Council said their default position was to not allow family to attend the funeral but “if desired, arrangements are stipulated/known and the estate allows, sometimes it is possible” for families to attend.

2. Royal London sent a Freedom of Information request to 400 UK local authorities on 15/07/2019 and received responses from 383.

3. The local authorities listed in the table responded that their default position is not to return ashes to families or to charge for ashes to be returned. 9 councils were excluded from this list either because they charge courier costs or make a decision to charge or return ashes on an individual basis. Charges varied between £10 - £18.

About Royal London:

Royal London is the largest mutual life, pensions and investment company in the UK, with funds under management of £130 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 4,046 employees. Figures quoted are as at June 2019.

For further information please contact:

Meera Khanna, Consumer PR Manager