A senior council officer for East Dunbartonshire Council has criticised the authority’s burial costs, describing them as “absolutely ridiculous”.
Cemeteries officer Audrey Hardie told MSPs at a meeting at the Scottish Parliament that many families cannot afford the fees, amounting to almost £3,000.
She said she was left left trying to justify the cost to grieving loved ones and called for a cap on the fees.
Holyrood’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee heard how East Dunbartonshire has the highest charge for burials in Scotland.
The cost of buying a plot and interment ranges from £694 in the Western Isles to a whopping £2,785 in East Dunbartonshire.
At the committee meeting on Wednesday, January 5, Ms Hardie was questioned on the enormous cost locally by MSP Willie Coffey (SNP).
Mr Coffey said: “It’s a huge, huge cost and I’m quite surprised how anybody can afford to be buried in East Dunbartonshire, to be perfectly honest.”
Ms Hardie said: “The actual cost is set at committee and the revenue we receive back from the charges we incur is directly set against different budget lines, so the money we receive doesn’t actually come directly into our service.
“Three years ago, they increased the prices by 25 per cent and then the following year by 50 per cent, so there’s a huge jump in costs over a two-year period and last year they went up by the rate of inflation.
“I really don’t know what the costs will be this year but I’m hoping that they freeze the prices because it’s come to saturation point with a lot of families where they just can’t afford it.
“Personally, I’m probably speaking out of turn here, but I think they’re absolutely ridiculous and it’s myself in the front line with most of the people who phone in or complain about the cost because I’m the public face for the cemeteries.”
She added: “I’ve got no control over what the costs are and I’ve to try and justify why these costs are set. I think it would help if... whether they could cap them in some way.”
The committee is currently scrutinising the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to address the increasing pressure on available land for burials in Scotland and help reduce costs.
Fraser Sutherland, policy officer for Citizens Advice Scotland has backed the idea of a cap.
He said: “I struggle to put it any better than the representative from East Dunbartonshire Council herself, who said it was ridiculous, the increases.
“Last year we saw another council increase their charges by 42 per cent. We’ve got this increasing variation across Scotland of one council charging almost £3,000 and another council charging £700.
“Families in these areas, or the clients of our service in particular, don’t necessarily have any more money because they live in one council compared to another but yet they are expected to pay that additional money.”
Grace Irvine, Director of Neighbourhood Services told the Herald: “Along with all councils in recent times, East Dunbartonshire has faced phenomenally challenging budget decisions having had to save in the region of £50 million over the last 10 years, with a further £14 million deficit next year.
“Decisions to increase cemetery charges, which still remain subsidised, have been taken by the Council at times when preserving front line services to the most vulnerable in our communities have been the priority.
“As such, introducing or increasing charges for some services were agreed rather than stopping the delivery of services.
“In East Dunbartonshire we also face a challenge for burial space and have invested significantly in a new cemetery in Lennoxtown and extensions at Cadder Cemetery in Bishopbriggs and Baldernock cemetery in recent years.
“We realise that burial charges are a sensitive issue but we urge anyone who is struggling with these charges in difficult times to talk to us and we can be flexible in terms of arrangements to pay in instalments and spread the cost over a longer period of time.”