It’s robbery, you can’t afford to live, you can’t afford to die - Mike Hill MP

Having to cope with the death of a loved one is one of the most emotional and traumatic experiences ever. I know, I’ve been there.

By Mike Hill
Thursday, 15 August, 2019, 10:00
The crematorium in Stranton Cemetery.

Not only do you have to deal with the devastating loss of somebody very close to you but you also have to deal with all of the funeral arrangements which duly follow, including the costs, which many of us are ill prepared for.

Following a campaign by Labour MP Rosie Winterton, the Government introduced the Children’s Funeral Fund for England earlier this year in order to ensure no parent will have to pay for their child’s burial or cremation.

I supported this campaign and welcomed the introduction of the scheme because nothing can be worse than facing the loss of a child, let alone having to meet unexpected bills to give them a dignified funeral.

In 2017 I equally welcomed a decision by Hartlepool Borough Council to waive cremation fees for foetal funerals and children up to the age of 16. This was something which I campaigned for at the time and a decision which the council said will ‘make dealing with the devastation of losing a child slightly easier for grieving families’.

This week the BBC has revealed huge discrepancies over cremation costs across the UK, with charges at council-run sites rising by a fifth since 2015 and ranging from £392 to £960. For the record, the cost in Hartlepool is £761 for a half hour committal service or £872 for a cremation and full one hour service for persons aged 18 and over.

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Apparently private crematoriums are amongst the highest chargers and local councils say the fees generally go back into the maintenance and upkeep of facilities, but the discrepancies are so wide that some are wondering why? And why the charges aren’t regulated or harmonised? It’s a situation which the Competition and Markets Authority is looking into as part of a wider investigation into the funerals sector.

Talking of which, a myth was inadvertently exposed by the BBC when they interviewed a lady from Mossley in Greater Manchester about coping with the cost of the funerals of both her parents who died within six weeks of each other.

Live on BBC News she stated that in the case of her mother, who died in another part of the country, part of the fees charged by the undertaker was for a levy for the body to pass through all counties on the way home.

I’d heard of this so called ‘county charge’ before as one of my friends in Hartlepool had to pay it, so I was very interested when an expert on the programme announced that such a charge did not exist. Well for something that doesn’t exist it cost the lady almost £300 extra. In her own words she said: “It’s robbery, you can’t afford to live, you can’t afford to die.”

I welcome any investigation into the sector. It’s long overdue because at the end of the day the last thing you would think of doing is shopping around.