Burial and cremation costs in Stafford Borough have previously been listed as “no charge” for children under 16 and stillborn babies.
But in the proposed fees and charges for 2022 the cremation fee is listed as £251 for babies under 12 months and £502 for children aged from 12 months to 16 years. Burial costs for babies and children aged up to nine years in the Rainbow Garden range from £515 to £890, while the fee for nine to 18-year-olds in Stafford and Stone cemeteries ranges from £1,060 to £1,130.
Councillor Ann Hobbs has questioned the inclusion of proposed cremation and burial charges for children in the document.
She said: “There can’t be that many children’s deaths – why are we trying to make profit out of something? We all pay our rates and it seems a really good thing to pay our rates towards.
“It seems a really sad thing to do to families that are in grief when they’ve lost children.
“I’m concerned that the proposals in this document could cause members of the public to have some anxiety.”
Councillor Jonathan Price, cabinet member for environment, responded that families who suffered the loss of a child were not charged the fees mentioned in the document. Instead the council claimed the money from the Government.
He said: “These fees are not passed onto parents. These funerals are still free, they have always been free.
“But for the ability for our purposes to claim the money back on the cost and administration side we have to put a fee in which we then forward to Government, which Government can then reimburse us for.”
Councillor Tony Pearce said: “Whilst I’m relieved by the explanation that has been given, my only concern is if the Government at some future stage were to withdraw that support.”
Councillor Price said: “I would not have that charge introduced by this authority should the Government withdraw that funding. We would morally continue doing that service for free.
“I am very passionate about that – the last thing a parent wants while dealing with that grief is to be hit with a bill as well. I think that would be quite devastating.”
The Government launched the Children’s Funeral Fund for England in 2019 to enable funeral directors to claim back burial or cremation costs as well as a financial contribution towards the coffin for a child.
Bereaved parents can also claim directly from the scheme if they choose not to use a funeral director and the scheme is open to families whatever their income who suffer a stillbirth after the 24th week of pregnancy or loss of a child under 18.
In Stafford Borough “basic cremation” charges for adults are being reduced by almost 40 per cent in 2022. Currently the cost of this service is £535 but it will fall to £325 in January. Those who chose this option will have no mourners in attendance at the crematorium and no organist is supplied.
Councillor Price said: “It’s got to be done before a set time, before 9.30 in the morning, and some people prefer that option.”
Robert Simpson, the council’s head of operations, added: “We have a normal cremation charge, but what we’ve found over recent years being advertised on TV is the ‘no frills’ cremation. People don’t want to pass any cost or charge onto their relatives.
“It’s supporting the market and what people want. That’s why we’ve introduced this new charge and new service.”
But the renewal fee for existing memorial trees will go up next year. A renewal for a further 25 year will increase by 11 per cent, from £509 to £565, and a 10-year renewal will go up from £254 to £325 – a 28 per cent rise.
The fees and charges document stated “the revised costs better reflect Stafford Borough Council’s ongoing maintenance liability for the trees”.
But Councillor Pearce said: “The increases here are substantial.
“Having a woodland burial is one of the most environmentally positive ways this council can act. Not only is someone providing a tree that will absorb carbon but it will increase biodiversity.
“We are creating a financial disincentive to do this. What happens if this is not paid – are we going to cut the trees down? I hope this will be considered.”