Burial charge move is rejected in council

editorial image

Plans to introduce a controversial burial charge to families in the Banbridge area were shot down last week.

The news came amidst revelations that grieving families paid almost £25,000 over a five-year period when they were charged for arriving late for burials in the Craigavon area.

An attempt to extend this charge to cover the entire Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council was shot down.

Instead, the controversial ‘Cemetery Services’ charging policy was not approved.

SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said people would almost need to make an appointment to die in order to avoid a financial penalty.

The Environmental Services Operations Manager (Craigavon) had told councillors there was currently no fee anywhere across the borough and explained that it had only been an issue in Craigavon.

SF Councillor Gemma McKenna said that a decision to charge a bereaved family for being late to a burial could lead to very bad public relations.

Ulster Unionist Councillor Glenn Barr said the situation in Craigavon was “unacceptable” and urged contact with local undertakers.

UUP Alderman Arnold Hatch, who chairs the environmental services committee, said that, rather than imposing fees, a more educational approach should be taken.

Independent Councillor David Jones said that he did not believe that the problem was with the undertakers being late as they were guided by the families and clergymen, and he felt that the timing was outside of their control.

Mr O’Hanlon said it would be unacceptable to tell a grieving family that they would have to pay a surcharge and suggested that officers meet with undertakers and clergymen in the area to discuss the issue.

Officers are to carry out an analysis and report back to the environmental services committee. The council had been told that the council cemetery services fee structure no longer had any provision for missed or late arrivals. This occurred infrequently in Armagh and Banbridge, but over the last five years, in Craigavon, there was a yearly average of £974.50 committed to conducting interments that arrive late or extend into overtime.

Historically a large number of these burials would be booked for the last time slot available, but in reality they would not arrive on site for approximately one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours after the time booked.

The council considered four options but did not approve any recommendation.