When my mother died recently, I’d budgeted for the funeral costs. What I had not budgeted for were the fees of the parish council which operates the only graveyard available. I was charged £2,000 for what was, effectively, permission to inter my mother in a plot we had already bought for my father, who died 40 years ago. The fee doesn’t include grave digging, and there’s a further £230 for permission to add my mother’s name to the headstone.
It’s especially unfair because we are being discriminated against for living on the wrong side of a town that happens to be divided into two parishes, Oxted and Limpsfield. When my father died in 1981, there was no room in the Limpsfield cemetery, so we paid £40 for a 100-year lease on a plot at Oxted, a mile from my parents’ house. Twenty years later, Oxted parish council decided to charge residents of Limpsfield parish triple the interment rate in Oxted.
If my mother had lived a few hundred yards away, over the parish boundary, it would have been £600.
NG, Limpsfield, Surrey
Interment charges levied by local authorities and parish councils are uncapped and unregulated and can dwarf the cost of a funeral director. One London borough charges £10,000 for people from outside the council’s jurisdiction. It’s reasonable for new plots to reflect the cost of land, its maintenance and popular demand. And a charging system that helps preserve cemeteries for local ratepayers makes sense.
However, it’s extraordinary that those charges apply to someone joining their spouse in a plot already leased by the family. It seems especially unfair, given that the price differential was introduced years after you buried your father and, that, since your local cemetery is full, you say you had no other option. Most councils make exceptions for partners who have been forced to move out of the area, but your argument that this should apply to your mother’s situation held no sway at Oxted. It told the Observer that its fees were reviewed annually and were lower for parishioners who paid for the upkeep of the cemetery through a council tax precept. “Fees are in line with those of many other parish councils, and the same for a first interment or a subsequent one,” it says.
According to the Institute of Cemetery And Crematorium Management (ICCM), the organisation that owns the burial ground can set its own fee and there’s no national guidance on what it can be. Since these organisations can be local authorities, private companies, charitable trusts, religious organisations or parish councils, they can vary wildly.
“Many local authorities charge a discounted fee for residents, as they may have contributed to the provision and upkeep of the cemetery through the rates and/or council tax system,” says ICCM. “Non residents are charged more, as they haven’t made this contribution. This can seem unfair, particularly when a cemetery is very close, but isn’t actually in the same authority area.”
Fees are likely to outstrip inflation as the provision of new cemeteries is not keeping up with demand. Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhain McDonagh, raised the issue in the Commons after a constituent, who had moved out of area, incurred a non-resident fee of nearly £4,000 to be buried in the family grave. “No bereaved family should be faced with the burden of having to shop around for the best deal, but across the country the cost of burials and cremations varies significantly,” she told the Observer. “Even within boroughs, non-residents can be charged up to quadruple the costs, regardless of how long they had lived there. This outrageous exploitation of grief urgently needs to change.”
Burials come under the remit of the Ministry of Justice, which says that burial authorities can charge such fees they think proper.
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