Essex

Canvey Island teenager faces £2,117 bill for mum's funeral

Chantelle and Shane Fitzgerald Image copyright BBC/Laurence Cawley
Image caption Chantelle and Shane Fitzgerald now face paying their mother's £2,000 funeral bill

A teenager is facing a £2,117 bill for her mother's funeral following a benefits dispute with the government.

Chantelle Fitzgerald, 18, of Canvey Island in Essex, lost her mother in August and thought the state would cover the cost.

However, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) said it would not pay and the funeral directors have issued their bill to her.

A family friend called it "disgusting" and has launched a fundraising appeal.

Vicki Fitzgerald died aged 47 from a liver disease, while the children's father died when they were a lot younger.

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When Mrs Fitzgerald died, Chantelle applied to become her brother Shane's legal guardian to prevent him being taken into care and, with his help - and that of her boyfriend's mother Michelle Gray - organised the funeral.

Image copyright Laurence Cawley/BBC
Image caption Michelle Grey said the children were unable to pay the funeral bill and were "both frightened of getting into trouble with the courts"

'Disgusting'

Chantelle signed the forms with the funeral director.

"I think mum hid it [her illness] from us in many ways," she said. "If I had known, I would have prepared everything a lot better.

"I've an older brother and they [DWP] said it was down to him to pay as next-of-kin, but I hadn't seen him in years and we don't have contact, although he did come to the funeral."

Ms Gray, 47, who also lives on Canvey, said "it's disgusting".

"I blame the government department - Chantelle's been left to sort out a funeral and now they're both frightened of getting into trouble with the courts and they're only kids."

'Ongoing dialogue'

A spokesman for the funeral directors E Sargeant & Son said: "They agreed to this fee and it is our normal business practice to follow this up if payment is not forthcoming.

"We are in ongoing dialogue with the family and have invited them to discuss the matter further."

A DWP spokesman said: "Funeral payments provide a safety net for those in need during a difficult time and last year we supported over 32,000 claims.

"If a claim is unsuccessful, claimants can request a mandatory reconsideration and then a right of appeal."

The family and Michelle Gray said they had already been through the appeal process and it had failed.

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