INCREASING demand for council-funded funerals in Portsmouth has been described as 'unsustainable', after it was revealed they cost more than £70,000 last year.
In the past four years the need for public health funerals in the city has grown by 268 per cent, an unprecedented rise that has Portsmouth City Council heads concerned if the trend continues.
Also known as community funerals, the services, are provided by local authorities where the deceased or their family are unable to meet the costs.
The services, that cost approximately £1,200 each, generally include a coffin and the services of a funeral director but do not include flowers, obituaries or transport for family members. Standard funerals tend to cost around £3,500 in comparison.
In a new report ahead of a resources meeting next week (Jan 22), Stephen Baily, the council's director of culture and city development, commented: 'Whatever the reason the current growth trend and the abilities of regulatory services to process funerals and recover costs are unsustainable.'
Where possible the council attempts to recover the costs from the estate of the deceased. Currently, the service is budgeted to cover approximately 60 funerals each year at an 80 per cent cost recovery rate, but if costs exceed this more funds will need to be found.
Recent freedom of information results from Royal London insurance showed that between the 2017-2018 financial year Portsmouth council spent a total of £72,991 on community funerals with local directors Forever Together, an increase from £33,982 in 2016/17
The council confirmed that last year 56 community funerals were held, up from 20 in 2010/11.
Resources boss, Councillor Jeanette Smith, explained that some of this was due to relatives being unable to meet the costs. 'There are a number of interrelated factors driving up the demand for, and associated costs with, recovering the council's expenditures for community funerals,' she said.
'This includes a growing number of relatives and family members not being prepared, or able, to accept responsibility for making the necessary funeral arrangements for their deceased relatives.
'The reason we are often given for this is that relatives and families cannot afford the cost of the funeral. People frequently explain that they are not eligible for the Department of Work and Pensions Social Fund.
'The council is particularly mindful of the costs associated with delivering its obligations; especially in light of continued cuts to the money we receive from the government.
'We are also mindful that a community funeral should be a last resort. As such, reasonable enquiries of remaining relatives and families are always made and we always contact known family members to find out why they are unwilling, or unable, to make arrangements for the funeral.'
Figures gathered by Royal London also showed that the authority spent the tenth highest amount on funeral services out of 275 local councils.
The report will be discussed at the resources meeting on January 22.