Funerals paid for by crowdfunding are on the rise

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The funeral of a Big Issue North seller was paid for through donations raised online, but just how common are crowdfunded services?

Donors and well-wishers made sure Peter Toulson received a "funeral befitting of a proud, dignified, lovely man".

The magazine vendor died in December 2016, aged 53, and more than 300 people donated a total of £5,073 via JustGiving to cover the costs of Monday's ceremony.

Crowdfunding for funerals has soared in the past year.

Figures released by JustGiving reveal that over 2,000 services were funded by donations raised through its website between January and September 2016.

This is more than four times as many for the same period in 2015.

The rise has been put down to a combination of the increasing cost of funerals and the general rise in the use of online crowdfunding.

Charles Wells, chief operations officer for JustGiving, said: "Thinking about the costs of a funeral is the last thing a grieving family wants to do but with the cost of funerals rising JustGiving has seen increasing numbers of people turning to crowdfunding to help say farewell to their loved ones.

"It can also be a practical way for friends, family and the community to come together and help take the strain off families when they're mourning their loss."

JustGiving users raised an average of £1,300 each towards funeral costs in 2016. There were 52,630 donations, compared with 9,089 during the same months the previous year.

The £5,073 raised by 331 supporters meant they could give Mr Toulson a send-off and donate more than £2,000 to charity.

His funeral was at Lawnswood crematorium in Leeds on Monday.

The alternative would likely have been a "public health funeral", commonly known as a "pauper's funeral".

What happens if no-one pays?

In cases where no-one will or is able to make the arrangements to pay for a funeral, the local council has a statutory obligation to step in.

Arrangements vary from area to area, but a council would typically register the death and instruct a funeral director to collect the body, provide a coffin and transport the deceased to a crematorium, advising any known family and friends of the date and time. Some also arrange a service.

Costs are recouped from the deceased's estate where possible but the Local Government Association says this can be difficult and places a "significant burden" on councils.

Research by BBC News found these funerals had cost councils £1.7m in 2013-14, with local authorities estimated to have arranged about 3,500.

This is still tiny compared with the more than 500,000 deaths registered per year.

A simple "direct cremation" costs an average of £1,600 and does not involve a service. This was the option chosen by David Bowie. Burials can cost in excess of £4,000.

Examples of crowdfunded funerals include the five friends who died on a day trip to Camber Sands.

More than £9,000 was raised via JustGiving for the Hindu ceremony at Winn's Common in September 2016.

Kenugen Saththiyanathan, Kobikanthan Saththiyanathan, Nitharsan Ravi, Inthushan Sriskantharaja and Gurushanth Srithavarajah got into difficulties in the water at the East Sussex resort.

A group of 145 donors contributed £2,433 towards the funeral of Charles Birmingham, a cyclist who died following a collision in Oldham, Greater Manchester. The money raised meant a funeral was able to take place in August 2016.

And 37 supporters raised £1,150 for a headstone and to pay the parish council charges of Suffolk woman Claire Blair, who died of cancer in 2014. The East Anglian Daily Times reported how the mother of three had been laid to rest without a headstone because of the costs of the funeral.

The crowdfunding industry says the rise in funeral donations accompanies a general increase in the use of online platforms to raise money for charities and business projects.

A spokesman for the UK Crowdfunding Association said: "What we often see is people raising money for those who would otherwise have a pauper's funeral," he said. "It can also happen where there has been a sudden, unexpected death or where there was a lot of local awareness.

"People are now very comfortable with raising funds through an online platform.

"It shows how awareness of crowdfunding is spreading beyond the M25.

"We've seen it across the board and this (crowdfunding funerals) is one area."

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