Council changes ashes policy after bereaved family complains

thisisoxfordshire: Christopher Harris with his daughter Charlotte, 12, at Woodstock Cemetery. Picture: OX53703 Ed Nix Buy this photo » Christopher Harris with his daughter Charlotte, 12, at Woodstock Cemetery. Picture: OX53703 Ed Nix

A TOWN council has been forced to change its policy on interring ashes after a bereaved family took the authority to task.

Christopher Harris objected to Woodstock Town Council’s rule that said people must employ the services of a funeral director to oversee the interment of a loved one’s ashes.

Mr Harris’s father Richard, 79, who had lived in Woodstock for almost 40 years, died in May this year.

The family held a funeral service and cremation in June, and planned a small family service at Lawns Cemetery, Green Lane, Woodstock, for interment of the ashes this month.

But the family was told they would need to employ a grave digger and funeral director to oversee the interment.

When they obtained a quote they told it would cost £90 for a grave digger, £74 for the plot, a £105 town council interment fee, and between £135 and £150 for a funeral director.

Mr Harris decided to challenge the council as he did not believe a funeral director was needed. He said: “The council rule imposed people to use a professional firm, but they don’t have that right at all.”

Mr Harris raised the issue at a town council meeting. He even dressed as a funeral director at the meeting to make the point funeral directors are not regulated and anyone can be one.

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Last night Woodstock’s mayor Brian Yoxall accepted the council’s policy was wrong and has agreed to change it.

He said: “The point about funeral directors being present is something which we firmly believed at the time to be correct policy.

“It has always been our policy to have an undertaker present and this was the first time case we had come across for a do it yourself funeral.

“That’s why we took the position we did.

“We have since taken advice about that subject and have now accepted it isn’t necessary for funeral directors to be present. “We are not insisting a funeral director has to be present now, but we are insisting a member of staff satisfies him or herself that arrangements are satisfactory.”

He said the council would look at including the cost of a staff member being present in the burial fee in future.

Mr Yoxall said the council has now been told by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management that was unnecessary for a funeral director to be present.

But the council must satisfy itself of the checks it is required to legally make as a burial authority, such as checking the name on the death certificate matches that on the casket. Mr Yoxall said he understood the requirement for a funeral director had always been the council’s policy. He could not say how many people had been affected by it.

Elsewhere in the county there is a mixed policy. Oxford City Council , which look after four cemeteries, says at the very least a grave digger, who is employed by the council, must be present to confirm the name on the death certificate and casket match.

In Bicester, the town council requires families to employ a funeral director.

Comments (2)

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11:39am Sun 19 Aug 12

Myron Blatz says...

With massive staffing cut-backs in Parks and other departments, I'm only surprised Oxford City Council still employs grave diggers.
With massive staffing cut-backs in Parks and other departments, I'm only surprised Oxford City Council still employs grave diggers. Myron Blatz

11:22pm Sun 19 Aug 12

Jean Valjean says...

If the Council have been imposing a rule unfairly and unreasonably, are they financially liable to those bereaved families who followed their (wrong) rules and employed a funeral director?

Anyone know a NWNF lawyer????
If the Council have been imposing a rule unfairly and unreasonably, are they financially liable to those bereaved families who followed their (wrong) rules and employed a funeral director? Anyone know a NWNF lawyer???? Jean Valjean

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