Paupers’ funerals bill for city hits £120k a year

Mortonhall has been the venue for a number of  'assisted funerals'. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood

Mortonhall has been the venue for a number of 'assisted funerals'. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood

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THREE people are being laid to rest in pauper’s graves every week, according to new
figures released to the News.

Around 150 people are either buried or cremated by Edinburgh City Council every year because they have no savings and nobody able to pay for their final send off.

The funerals cost taxpayers around £120,000 a year – or around £800 per funeral.

For that sum the deceased receive the most basic of farewells – no flowers, no music or reception, and only a minister and an undertaker present.

In Edinburgh, the number of such “assisted funerals” has dipped slightly since the height of the economic downturn when around 180 were carried out a year.

However, in Midlothian it is steadily creeping up and the council has carried out 28 since April 2010 – including one recent service for a 23-year-old man.

The sad spectacle has been labelled a modern malaise by Anne Shearer, the first point of contact when it comes to organising a pauper’s funeral in Midlothian.

She said: “There is no real pattern for the people we see and the age groups 
vary from people in their 20s right through to people in their 80s.

“The deceased is either given a full burial or a cremation.

“We treat our job not just as something that we have to tackle, but as what it is: someone has died and we need to treat them with the respect they deserve.

“Often families are embarrassed to contact us at first until we make it clear that the service is something that they are entitled to.”

In Scotland, councils have a legal obligation to step in and make sure bodies are disposed of if there are no loved ones to pay for the funeral.

They are not under any obligation to trace relatives and cannot force people to pay.

As one undertaker explained: “If you found a divorced wife of a man she hated, how could you legally and ethically make her pay for the funeral?”

Councils will allow friends and family to attend but they have no say in the timing or any of the other arrangements.

Deceased with no known next of kin are buried at Craigmillar Castle Park Cemetery while ashes are interred in the Garden of Remembrance at Mortonhall Crematorium.

There is no one stereotype of the kind of individual who requires an assisted funeral, although by and large they are mainly men.

Some succumb to a tragic spiral of addiction, others become estranged from their family, while others simply outlive everyone they know. Ms Shearer added: “People come from all walks of life. There are awful cases where someone has taken their own life or people are in care and simply succumb to poor health.

“But usually assisted funerals are required because the family are not able to meet the cost.”

dawn.morrison@edinburghnews.com.