Funeral director slams council over hike in cemetery fees for people in Sunderland

The cost of dying is to get more expensive on Wearside as the cost of burial plots get a second price hike within months - to help fund a better crematorium and cemeteries.

Monday, 23rd July 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 23rd July 2018, 7:42 am
Ashbrooke Funeral Directors' Jeff Wilson is unhappy with burial cost increase.

Sunderland City Council has increase the cost of a plot in one of its 10 cemeteries from £1,780 to £2,000 from the start of next month.

In April, the fee was upped from £1,672.

Sunderland Crematorium, where Sunderland City Council is to carry out £1million of improvements.

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The council says the additional funds from the charge will help it cover the cost of improvements to its grounds, buildings and work at Sunderland Crematorium.

City funeral directors say they face passing on the cost to customers to ensure they can keep their own business going, with many grieving clients already struggling to find the cash or credit to cover the cost of a service.

The average bill comes in at around £3,000.

Jeff Wilson, who is director of Ashbrooke Funeral Directors, in Whitehall Terrace, has 40 years of experience in the trade and has run the business for 20 years.

He said: “We just got an email from the council saying they were putting up the bill.

“I feel as though the service is diminishing a great deal because at one time, the 10 cemeteries used to have a team who would go around and look after them, but with the cut backs and redundancies, they have whittled down, and now they have six for all of them.

“There used to be between 30 or 40 workers many years ago, they used to grow plants and flowers at least three of the cemeteries.

“Now they’re looking unkempt and anybody who goes around the cemetery can see that and people are paying money for graves to be maintained.”

Mr Wilson, a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors and the Society of Independent Funeral Directors, said he would do what he could to help those struggling to cover the cost of saying the final farewell to their loved one.

But he added: “The council has to understand we are in an area of high deprivation and unemployment, not everybody has insurance or can get the funding help from the DWP.

“We do offer payment plans but not everyone qualifies for it because of their credit rating.

“We know what people can and can’t afford.

“We try to meet people’s needs and funds and we’re extremely flexible with them.

“But I’ve been doing this for 40 years and for people to find another £200 is a lot for them.”

Councillor Amy Wilson, who oversees bereavement services as part of her council cabinet portfolio for environment and transport, said: “The council keeps its part of funeral costs constantly under review and as low as it possibly can.

“Meeting the standards and services that bereaved families and friends rightly expect requires continual investment.

“Investing in areas such as buildings or grounds maintenance and exacting environmental standards for crematoria are all part of the bigger and total cost of a funeral.

“As part of this year’s capital budget, more than £1million of works are being planned at Sunderland Crematoria.

“This work includes replacing the three cremators and updating emissions controls.

“These works are about ensuring reliable and compliant operations for the city’s bereavement service.

“A £300,000 four-year maintenance and improvement programme to paths and cemetery infrastructure is also getting underway.

“Funeral costs are helping meet these investments and on-going bereavement service delivery.”