News

Paupers funerals cost £180,000 in Northern Ireland

Julia Holmes and her partner Thomas Ruttle
Brendan Hughes

THE cost to councils and health trusts of 'paupers' funerals' in the north has surged by almost 50 per cent in five years.

More than £180,000 has been spent since 2008 on funerals for people who die alone or without relatives able or willing to pay.

Elderly people living longer and dying alone, as well as a rise in funeral fees, have been cited as possible reasons for the increase.

Paupers' funerals are thought to have been used in some high-profile deaths during 2015.

Convicted fraudster Julia Holmes was cremated in June after she and her partner were found dead at their Co Limerick home in an apparent suicide pact.

Gardaí believe the couple may have died from deliberate exposure to carbon monoxide.

Originally from the north, Ms Holmes (63) had used more than 40 aliases and was the subject of Garda, PSNI and FBI investigations.

She was cremated in Co Cork after her body lay unclaimed in a hospital morgue for more than a fortnight.

Her only child, a son whom she abandoned 40 years ago in Northern Ireland as a baby, had said that he wanted nothing to do with her.

The figures for paupers' funerals were obtained by The Irish News through a series of Freedom of Information requests.

Eight of the 11 councils and all five health trusts responded to requests for information.

Health trusts and councils carried out around 90 funerals since 2008, according to the figures disclosed.

In 2013-14, the most recent period with most complete statistics, around £32,600 was spent. The figure is about 46 per cent more than the £22,200 recorded in 2008-09. However, spending fell again to around £25,500 in 2014-15.

In the vast majority of cases, authorities were unable to recover costs for the funerals from the deceased.

Across Britain and Northern Ireland, the cost to councils of paupers' funerals has increased by almost 30 per cent to £1.7m in the past four years, while the number of funerals has also risen by 11 per cent.

Evelyn Hoy, chief executive at the office of the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, encouraged people to promote an "age-friendly society".

"Too often we hear about older people who are lonely, socially isolated and have limited contact with family, friends and neighbours," she said.

"We need to ensure we are an age-friendly society, encouraging, supporting and welcoming older people into every activity in our communities.

"Everyone can benefit from the important contributions that older people have to make. Neighbours, friends, clubs and associations and voluntary groups can all help by keeping in touch with older neighbours and relatives and including them in activities and events that interest them.

"We all hope to live longer and healthier lives than our previous generations were able to. It is essential that all of us play our part in making Northern Ireland inclusive to older people."

In the Belfast council area, people who die alone are buried in a plot maintained by its environmental health service.

Alternatively cremation ashes are scattered in the council's garden of remembrance, collected or interred in a grave.

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