The Isle of Wight Council confirmed Thursday morning, that plans for controversial increases in charges for bereavement services have been paused, including a new £55 charge for live-streaming services at the crematorium.
One of the largest increases, the cost of a cremation with no service or mourners present was set to rise to £608, but has now been reduced back to the 2019 price of £450. ‘Direct cremation’, as it is known, is often used by the poorest Islanders as it can shave hundreds of pounds off the cost of a funeral. All other fees are to be held at last year’s prices pending a full commercial review.
Cllr Chris Jarman, responsible for resources at the council said: “I recognise that we have a significant affordability issue here on the Island and we are focused on a strategy which will provide a very affordable service for those of limited means, with a variety of options for those who wish to use them. We recognise the enormity of losing a loved one and we would not wish to further burden them with unsustainable financial pressures.”
However, bereaved families may still face additional charges, courtesy of the Island’s NHS Trust, who told funeral directors in a private virtual briefing on Wednesday that they will be introducing new collection charges if bodies are not removed from the mortuary in St Mary’s Hospital within two days.
It was first rumoured in October that a new daily charge of £30 was set to be introduced, but in a statement issued to the IW Observer at the time, a trust spokesman said: “Our bereavement facilities are sufficient to provide our mortuary service. Should we look to introduce a mortuary charge, we would carry out a consultation and involve our partners and key stakeholders.”
On Wednesday, in what was described as a ‘tetchy’ meeting, Julie Conway, the trust’s associate director of operations revealed that a new charge of £66 (£55 plus VAT) is to be introduced from May 1, with no consultation.
When challenged about the legal basis for the charge, in the words of one funeral director, ‘there were no satisfactory answers, she effectively said we can do it and we are going to do it’.
Charges for NHS Services are only permitted by legislation under limited circumstances. The IW Observer first asked for the legal basis for any charge back in October, and again on Tuesday of this week, but at the time of going to press have not received an answer.
One of the funeral directors who took part in Wednesday’s meeting said: “Personally, I’m delighted that the council has taken note of the disquiet over the proposed increases and are revisiting them as part of a commercial review. It is therefore disappointing that the Island’s NHS are now seeking to levy unreasonable and in my opinion, unenforceable charges.
“Island funeral directors work hard to collect loved ones in a timely fashion, but the trust doesn’t even have a system in place to let us know when we are supposed to turn up. They should be looking at other stakeholders if they feel that their facilities are unable to cope. I’m certain the outcome would reveal that funeral directors are not at fault. Any claims to be working with the industry are not true, this is the first we have heard of it and it is simply being imposed on us.
“We have a wonderful relationship with the hard-working staff at St. Mary’s mortuary. This policy imposed by their management does not keep with the spirit of it.“
A spokesman for Isle of Wight NHS Trust said: “Our bereavement and mortuary provide an important service for our hospital and our community, and we are working to ensure this is sustainable. We are therefore working with Island funeral directors on a six-month trial to improve how we work together and ensure a consistent use of NHS services, which is in line with other NHS mortuary services.”