Poll: Cost of dying soars as cemetery fees in Suffolk Coastal triple following ‘years of undercharging’
13:22 08 January 2014
A hike in burial charges at council-owned cemeteries has been labelled a “tax on death” - with fees for some plots rising as much as 450% in Suffolk Coastal.
As of January 1, the cost of buying a grave site for 25 years has almost trebled - with grieving families expected to pay an extra £1,000 compared to last year.
Anyone wishing to be buried at the authority’s sites in Aldeburgh, Leiston, Saxmundham or Woodbridge will have to pay £688 for the interment alone (an increase of 64% compared to £420 last year) and £1,355 for the exclusive right of burial for 25 years (up 195% from £460). The right to a cremation plot has also gone up more than five times, from £230 to £1,260 - a 448% increase.
The increases come as Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) continues to seek savings in the face of central Government funding cuts.
Although committing to freeze council tax at 2010 levels, its budget has been slashed from £15.3 million to £11.9m in the last four years - a reduction of about 22% - with the council aiming to save another 15% by the end of this financial year.
At Waveney District Council (WDC), which faces similar savings targets, the right to a burial plot increased just £50 to £550 for 50 years, while a cremation plot now costs £360 for 50 years - up £80 since last year.
SCDC’s new rates are now closer to those of Ipswich Borough Council (IBC), which charges £1,120 for a 50-year burial plot and £1,050 for a 25-year cremation plot.
James Bidewell, whose father died a day after the change in fees, said he was “disgusted” by the figures but that his family had been left with little choice but to pay up for a burial in Aldeburgh. He added: “My mother is elderly and will stop driving sooner or later.
“She plans to downsize and move from Snape to Aldeburgh, where she has friends and support, and where she made the choice to have my father buried.
“The council may well think people are wealthy enough to afford it - but I personally find it outrageous. My mother is trying to come to terms with my father’s death.”
Other councils in Suffolk have also increased fees since last year - but none as sharply as SCDC.
Martin Brown, of Saxmundham-based Tony Brown Funeral Services, thinks the increases will force families to make tough decisions. Mr Brown, who took over the firm following his father’s retirement in 2009, said: “In 25 years I have never come across anything like this. It’s disgusting.
“Our company puts fees up in line with inflation. If we made such an increase we’d be out of business.
“I thought it was a typing error when I first saw it. I’ve had a few surprises in my time but this nearly gave me a heart attack.
“The rise in exclusive rights to burial is beyond words. It’s like some kind of death tax.
“It might make people rethink being buried in their parish. Of course, if they choose to be cremated instead, they will still be charged almost as much for a plot.
“Families like the Bidewells are being forced to consider their options.”
Mr Brown estimated that the average cost of burial in Leiston could now be more than £2,100, while fees remained four times less expensive for a churchyard burial two miles away in Knodishall.
The Venerable Ian Morgan, Archdeacon of Suffolk, said that burial fees in cemeteries were “rightly a concern for individual district and borough councils”. He agreed that local authorities faced “real financial pressures” but said the Church of England had managed to hold its statutory fee for burial in a churchyard at between £286 and £260.”
Ray Herring, Leader of SCDC, said a review of cemetery services had revealed that the council consistently undercharged at its four cemeteries. He added: “During the last two years, there have been less than 200 burials/internment of ashes across these four sites. This service has been subsidised by Suffolk Coastal, using tax payers money, by about £100,000 a year.
“We then carried out a benchmarking study, to ascertain what other councils were charging for similar services. As a result of this review and benchmarking work, Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet agreed a new set of fees and charges in December 2013 for this calendar year.
“I would stress that there is no intention for Suffolk Coastal to profit from the increased cemetery charges. The increase is aimed at correcting several years of under charging.
“We have a duty to local people to ensure that this service is cost neutral to the tax payers and to also make proper provision for the future.
“There are also provisions in place to ensure that proper burials are provided for those people in the community who cannot afford the funeral costs. Equally, there are a number of options available to people, such as church burials, green burials and through cremation services.”
Martyn Green, Chief Executive of Age UK Suffolk, said there may be assistance available, through the benefits system, to people on low incomes who find themselves responsible for arranging and paying for the funeral of their next of kin. He added: “We are concerned at the increase in burial and cremation costs by SCDC and the distress that this must be causing to families, at what is already a difficult and upsetting time. Age UK Suffolk would urge SCDC to reconsider this increase.
“We would encourage anyone over retirement age who finds themselves in this situation to contact our benefits advice service on 01449 674222 for advice on this issue.
“Should people have concerns regarding their own funeral, we can also offer information to those who might wish to plan and pay for their funeral in advance. Telephone our Ipswich information help centre on 01473 257039 to talk this through or visit our local help centres in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Lowestoft.”