A grant to help the poorest grieving families pay funeral costs hasn’t been increased in fifteen years, it was reported this week. At the same time, funeral costs have doubled.

Families can only get up to £700 to cover funeral directors’ costs. The funeral fund, which was set up to cover funeral costs for families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to lay their loved ones to rest, was capped in 2003 and now covers less than half the cost of a basic funeral.

Asked what people should do when they can’t afford a funeral, a government spokesperson said:

“In cases when it’s not possible for a family to organise a funeral, local authorities will make arrangements.”

The government are referring to funerals arranged by local authorities, often called” paupers’ funerals”.  These happen when someone dies without family or friends who can pay for a funeral, and they have increased by 12% in five years, as more and more families are unable to afford rising funeral costs.

”Paupers’ funerals” are usually the last resort for people trying to arrange a respectful funeral when someone in their family dies. But most people don’t qualify. Applicants must pass a rigorous, often-stigmatising vetting process, and more and more councils are denying families the right to attend the funeral.

Councils, cash-strapped from years of government cuts, are resorting to aggressive blocking of ”paupers’ funerals”.

Clare, who works for Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth service which supports grieving people on low incomes, said:

“A lot of councils are making it nigh on impossible for desperate, grieving people to get a council funeral. I’ve spoken to councils who refuse to arrange a public health funeral if there’s any next of kin. One council said they’d withhold the deceased’s ashes to deter people from having a council funeral. We understand councils struggling under budget cuts, but this is no way to treat grieving families. It causes people huge amounts of shame and distress at what is already an incredibly painful time.”

It’s not clear whether pointing people towards public health funerals is new government policy.

Heather Kennedy, campaigns manager for the Fair Funerals campaign said:

“It’s shocking to see the government telling people who can’t afford a funeral that they should contact their council. Most people are not eligible for a council funeral, and would find themselves turned away. The government’s funeral fund is broken, and they need to fix it, rather than passing the buck onto cash-strapped councils. Council funerals are not the solution to funeral poverty. We need a proper safety net that spares people the shame and distress of not being able to lay their husband, sister or child to rest. As the Secretary of State, Esther McVey must raise the funeral fund so it covers basic costs.”

The Fair Funerals campaign, supported by a growing cross-party coalition of MPs, are calling on the government to raise the funeral fund so it once again covers the price of arranging a basic funeral.