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'I can't afford to bury my brother'
FAMILIES on benefits say they are unable to bury their loved ones due to the rising costs of funerals.
Two Oxford families have been forced to leave their deceased relatives in the morgue even though they both passed away two months ago.
Out of work Michael Walton, 40, pictured above, from Lambourne Road, lost his brother David, 59, on August 31.
But he has not been able to afford to pay the £480 deposit to book a £2,250 funeral with Reeves and Pain funeral directors of Abingdon Road, Oxford.
He has been seeking help from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Fund, but will not receive any money until a funeral date is arranged.
The funeral directors will not arrange a funeral until a deposit is paid, resulting in a painful “Catch 22” for grieving families.
Payment from the social fund has been capped at £700 for funeral directors’ costs since 2003, but the cost of services has risen. According to insurers Sun Life Direct’s annual report on the “cost of dying”, funeral costs have risen by 71 per cent in the last eight years nationwide.
Mr Walton said: “It is disgusting. My brother has always been there for me and I can’t cope with any of it. I don’t want him stuck in a freezer in the JR.
“I’m lucky if I can find money for myself and I can’t afford the deposit. I just want to get him buried.”
A brother and sister from Cowley, aged 51 and 49, with learning difficulties, have found themselves in a similar situation having lost their mother on August 10.
They have been unable to afford the £1,020 deposit needed to arrange the funeral and so far have been unable to obtain funds from the DWP.
Carole Roberts, of registered charity Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre, was contacted by both families.
The centre has dealt with a handful of similar cases over the last six months.
She said: “We are getting really upset. We know that there’s going to be more cases.”
Staff at the Agnes Smith Advice Centre in Blackbird Leys said they have handled a similar case in the last month while Barton Advice Centre dealt with another in the last week.
Oxford University Hospitals Trust provide mortuary facilities for the county council, and confirmed bodies will stay with them for as long as is neccessary.
They could not provide a figure for how many they had last night.
A spokesman for the DWP said: “Support is available to those who meet the eligibility criteria. “For example, the person seeking help must have been awarded a qualifying income-related benefit or tax credit and have good reason for taking responsibility for the funeral arrangements.”
Funds cannot be released until the DWP know the service’s full costs.
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, a fomer Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has been in contact with the DWP and is planning to take up Mr Walton’s case with them.
Mr Smith said: “The problem is that the social fund won’t pay until the funeral arrangements are under way and the funeral directors won’t arrange funerals until they have received money.
“For people on low incomes it is a real catch 22 situation.”
A spokesman from Reeves and Pain funeral directors, said: “We fully sympathise with the rising cost of third party charges, however, these fees are outside of our control.
“It is a policy adopted by the majority of funeral directors to request payment for these disbursements prior to the funeral taking place.”