'Pauper funerals' in Wales increase due to burial costs

Image caption At least one public health funeral will be held in Wales each week

The number of public health funerals in Wales is increasing with some families unable to pay to bury their loved ones.

The head of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has told BBC Wales he believes the problem will get worse.

People are being turned away by funeral directors because they cannot afford deposits, leaving councils to foot the bill for so-called "pauper funerals".

BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme found Welsh councils have increased charges by 168% in the last 10 years.

This is three times the rate of inflation recorded the Office of National Statistics over the same period.

On average it now costs well over £800 to buy a grave in Wales.

Last month a report found the average cost of a cremation in the UK was £2,720 and a burial was £3,462.

Joanne Sunter, from Portmead in Swansea, said she was turned away by four funeral directors because she was unable to pay a deposit of hundreds of pounds up front.

Image caption Joanne Sunter said she was turned away by four funeral directors because she did not have a deposit

"I was heartbroken. My mother was in a mortuary rotting and none of these people would help me," she said.

"I just wanted to put her to rest as did my brother and sister and the rest of the family."

Funeral directors like Clive Peterson in Cwmbran blame local councils saying increased charges for services associated with burial and cremation are the reason funerals have become so expensive.

"There doesn't seem to be any control," he said.

"For instance we've had notification in recent times that Caerphilly District Council are putting up the burial fees up by 18% plus inflation, every year for the next five years."

A public health funeral consists of a simple service after which the deceased is either cremated or buried in an unmarked grave which could potentially be reused three or four times.

At least one such funeral - traditionally held when there is no remaining next-of-kin - takes place in Wales every week.

"Growing trend"

But Week in Week Out has found councils are dealing with more cases where families simply cannot afford to pay or because funeral directors have turned them away.

The programme asked every council and local health board in Wales, through a freedom of information request, how many public health funerals they dealt with on an annual basis from 2001 to 2010.

Due to reorganization not every health board was able to respond but the figures gathered suggest numbers had doubled over the decade.

Steve Thomas, chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), said: "I'm not surprised by that, and I suspect we will see a growing trend towards this.

"Now it's not a trend any of us would welcome, but it does it reflect the nature of society and probably the problems we have in the economy at the moment."

Week In Week Out: The Cost Of A Welsh Funeral will be broadcast on Tuesday, 11 October at 22:35 BST on BBC1 Wales.

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