UK

MP who borrowed money for son's funeral 'delighted' as fees waived for under 18s

Close-up of a closed coffin and funeral flowers Image copyright Thinkstock

A Labour MP who struggled to pay for her son's funeral is "delighted" the UK's largest undertaker firm is to waive fees for all children's funerals.

Co-op Funeralcare is extending its free service to cover 16 and 17-year-olds, meaning for some parts of the UK there will be no cost to bereaved families.

Like many independent funeral directors, the Co-op already offers free services for under 16-year-olds.

Carolyn Harris had to borrow money so she could bury her eight-year-old son.

She said: "This compassionate response by the Co-op reaffirms my faith in the funeral industry that has always maintained great respect and compassion at this most dreadful time.

"In reality this means that in some parts of the country, where compassionate local authorities have scrapped fees, there will be no cost to a bereaved parent."

The MP for Swansea East was forced to take out a loan to cover the costs after her son was killed in a road accident in 1989.

She is campaigning for an end to council burial charges for children.

Some local authorities - including Cardiff, Swansea and Plymouth - have already scrapped charges for child burials and cremations.

The government says help is available for those who cannot afford the charges through a social fund for funerals.

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The average cost of a funeral in 2015 was £3,817 including third party fees, according to the Co-op.

The Co-op will cover the costs for the undertakers, embalming, coffin and transport.

It will not pay for third party fees, which include burial and cremation fees, the doctor certification and the minister or celebrant fee.

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Media captionCarolyn Harris recounts to the Commons the experience of losing her son and calls for an end to council charges for child funerals.

Richard Lancaster, chief executive of Co-op Funeralcare, said: "Dealing with the death of a child is a devastating experience for any parent and having to comprehend this as well as sorting out the funeral and associated costs makes this experience even more traumatic.

"We hope that others will now improve and extend their own policies on child funeral costs, meaning that funding support across the UK goes much further to assist bereaved parents."

William Eccleston, the managing director of the National Federation of Funeral Directors, welcomed the announcement saying many funeral directors, crematoria and burial grounds have traditionally had a 16-year-old cut off for free services.

He called on all funeral-related services to follow suit - including council-owned crematoria and cemeteries - to ensure costs are not passed on to families.

Financial 'burden'

The children's cancer charity, CLIC Sargent, said the death of a child was something that parents were often financially unprepared for.

Chief executive Kate Lee said: "We know that a child's cancer diagnosis can place a huge financial burden on families, with parents spending an additional £600 per month on expenses such as travel, hospital parking and energy bills.

"For the families we support that go through the devastating experience of losing a child, the funeral expenses they face simply add to this burden."

In the year ending 31 March 2016, there were 3,665 child deaths in the UK.

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