In Brief

Pauper's funerals could return to UK, say MPs

Select committee warns against 'lack of protection' for bereaved and say families are struggling to meet costs

A cross-bench committee of MPs has warned of the return of "pauper's funerals" and said less well-off families are only receiving "outdated" public support when facing bereavement.

The select committee is so concerned about the cost of funerals for poorer families it has asked the Competitions and Markets Authority watchdog to intervene. 

The MPs examined funeral services nationally and found that the market does not "operate normally", with prices varying widely. One funeral home charged £900 while another in the area asked for £3,000 for the same service.

Labour MP Frank Field, the chairman of the work and pensions select committee, said he was concerned by the "lack of protection in the market for bereaved customers, particularly those on low incomes".

He added: "We heard clear evidence of the distressing circumstances and debt this is leading people into, at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable. We do not want a return to the spectre of miserable 'pauper's funerals'.

"We did not set out to inquire into the funeral industry but it soon became apparent that the interaction between an opaque and outdated public system of bereavement support and a market in funeral services which simply does not operate 'normally', is causing problems."

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The committee heard evidence from one mother who had to keep her son's body frozen in a mortuary for "months" while she saved enough money to pay for his funeral, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Other anecdotes revealed that grieving families were denied their relatives' ashes because of a shortfall in the final payment for funeral services.

The average cost of a funeral was £3,702 in 2015, says the Telegraph, quoting figures from the insurer Royal London, a 3.9 per cent increase on 2014, despite historically low interest rates.

According to Royal London, the cost of funerals continues to be a postcode lottery, with basic charges ranging from around £2,976 to £7,216, a difference of £4,240.

Among other recommendations, the committee wants bereavement benefits to be extended to cohabiting couples and says ministers should conduct a full review of burials, cremations and funerals to tackle the problems.

Infographic by www.statista.com for TheWeek.co.uk. 

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