PAUPERS’ funerals cost Reading Borough Council (RBC) more than £10,000 last year, new research shows.

Public health funerals – commonly known as paupers’ funerals – are arranged by councils when someone dies and has no traceable family, or when no-one is able or willing to organise and pay for a service.

But insurance company Royal London says a lack of minimum standards means some grieving relatives across the UK are being treated unfairly.

RBC spent £11,029 on eight public health funerals in 2018-19, according to information obtained by the firm via Freedom of Information requests.

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It means the average cost was £1,379 – below the national average of £1,507.

In total, the 383 councils across the UK that responded spent £6.3 million on more than 4,000 funerals over the period.

Royal London asked councils if they allow family members to attend a public health funeral – 14 said they do not, with reasons given including that there is no service to attend.

It also found that 21 councils by default do not return ashes to bereaved families after a cremation, and 18 charge for ashes to be returned, with fees varying between £10 and £18.

Of the councils that explained why they charge, Royal London said reasons included the cost of the urn, or a collection cost.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at the firm, said it is “incredibly sad” when bereaved families are forced to seek a public health funeral.

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"But when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear that they are being treated unfairly,” she added.

"It's about time the system was overhauled, and we're calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one's ashes."

Nearly a third of the funerals were because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost of a private funeral, the mutual insurer added.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for burials and cremations, said: “We are aware of concerns around the different services local authorities provide for public health funerals and are considering the matter.”

A Local Government Association spokesman said: "With local authorities facing challenging funding pressures, the increase in the number of public health funerals is putting further pressure on council budgets, and driving them to limit the costs they incur in arranging these funerals."

A spokesperson for RBC said: "We will seek to re-claim funeral costs from the deceased’s estate or encourage families to take on funeral arrangements where possible.

"The Council will release ashes to the families without charge when a public health funeral has been held and family members are able to attend."