RESIDENTS in Leeds are facing higher bills for laying their relatives and loved ones to rest after a 4.5 per cent increase in burial charges took hold yesterday.
The price rise marks the second time in 12 months that Leeds City Council have increased costs, with the charges escalating by six per cent in November last year.
Councillors and Friends’ groups have criticised the move, which takes the cost of a standard burial in Leeds from £1,848 to £1,931.
The new charges will generate an additional £220,000, which the council says will be used to meet the increased costs of running the burial and cremations service.
Coun Barry Anderson, the council’s shadow executive board member for environmental services, is among those to voice their concerns over the price hike.
He said: “While I recognise that council budgets are stretched at the moment, I do have to question the ruling administration returning time and again to increase charges for this sensitive service.
“Over the last two years they have sought to make significant increases – six per cent in November 2011 followed by a further 4.5 per cent less than a year later.
“The two increases have raked in over £400,000 in income.”
The 2012 increase was proposed in line with inflation earlier this year to address the rise in costs of providing burials and cremations.
The six per cent increase last November was instigated to address a budget shortfall and to deal with other issues, such as the installation of security measures at some graveyards and crematoriums.
A comparison of eight key cities in the UK – Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – shows that Leeds is the third highest charging for burials and the fourth for cremations.
Coun Anderson added: “I accept that inflationary costs are an issue and that additional security measures have been needed at some crematoria, but surely the council can look at alternatives to simply passing on these costs to families year after year – it is not their fault that graves have been vandalised and disrupted.
“I hope that they will give some thought to this and given the above inflation six per cent increase less than a year ago, in November 2011, look to reduce the planned increase for 2012.”
Dawn Horkan, who founded the Friends of Hunslet Cemetery group in 2009 after her brother Chris was laid to rest there, described the price rise as a “joke”.
Graves at the cemetery have suffered repeatedly at the hands of vandals but there is currently no security in place, with a fence due to be built in the coming weeks.
She said: “If the council are going to introduce a price increase, they should install CCTV.
“They can’t justify the increase without any form of security.
“The problems are everywhere – railings are being stolen from graves, graves are being trashed.
“People pay because they want a grave to look nice and respect the memory of their loved one. But if you’re paying that amount, you’re paying for them to be safe.”
Leeds City Council’s Parks and Countryside service is responsible for the management of three crematoria, 23 cemeteries and 22 closed churchyards in the city.
On average, the service deals with more than 5,000 cremations and 1,000 burials each year.
A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said: “The increased charges will help cover the costs of providing burials and cremations, this is not additional income.
“Over the last two years, the council has had to find ways of meeting funding shortfalls and make significant cuts totalling £90m and £55.4m respectively.
“Despite these savings, burial and cremation services are subsidised by the council and even with increased charges, the services continue to be subsidised.
“As well as the annual running costs, we’ve committed significant capital funding to create a new cemetery at Whinmoor in Leeds and are making improvements for visitors at Lawnswood Crematorium, both of which will be completed this winter.”