Counting cost of longer lives

A fall in Birmingham’s death rate has led to a budget crisis for the council’s funeral division.

Because people are living longer the money the council makes from funerals has fallen. This year it is predicted to make £1.7 million less than it had hoped.

Birmingham has 11 cemeteries, three crematoria and 71 staff which are all managed and run by the bereavement services section. This year the department had budgeted to receive £8.3 million in income – made up of the fees and charges it levies for funerals – and to spend £5.8 million. This would have left it with a £2.5 million surplus.

But latest figures presented to the transport and street services committee show its income was projected to drop by £1.7 million – meaning its surplus – or profit – would only be £800,000.

A council spokesman said: “This income shortfall is principally attributable to the impact of a significant reduction in the death rate in Birmingham.”

But he stressed the surplus was not a profit in the conventional sense of the word but was ploughed back into maintaining and restoring its cemeteries.

Cabinet member for transport and street services, Coun Len Gregory, said they needed to come up with solutions to address the situation but it would be difficult as they had fixed costs and were limited as to where they could make cuts.

“The falling death rate in Birmingham is clearly a significant factor that must be taken into consideration when we look at the income budget for bereavement services,” he said.

“It’s important to point out that any surplus is ploughed back into the service to ensure a top class service for the people of Birmingham. The service is not overspending and constantly reviewing and  reducing expenditure wherever  possible to mitigate the projected shortfall.”

He said staff had already taken steps to increase income by offering “enhanced services” such as grave maintenance, and providing rose bushes and memorials.

Current charges for a cremation are £458 for an adult over the age of 14 and £88 for a child. There is a further charge of £58 to scatter ashes in a Garden of Remembrance. Burials cost more. They range from £498 to £4,476 depending on the type of grave and rights of burial.

Income is also derived from fees and charges from between £48 and £300 for the late arrival of a funeral party to £180 for the late cancellation of a funeral.