Swindon Borough Council is one of a small number of local authorities that do not allow bereaved family members to attend 'paupers’ funerals', new research shows.

Public health funerals, commonly known as paupers’ funerals, are arranged by councils when someone dies and has no traceable family or when no-one is able or willing to organise and pay for a service.

Swindon Borough Council was one of 14 councils that said they did not allow family members to attend such services, according to information obtained by insurance firm Royal London via Freedom of Information requests.

The council spent £6,883 on nine public health funerals in 2018-19, with an average cost of £765 – well below the national average of £1,507.

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “As a council we only carry out public health funerals as a last resort in line with our statutory obligations. This is often when there is no next of kin and, on rare occasions, where family members may be unwilling or unable to arrange a funeral themselves.

“In Swindon, such funerals take the form of a cremation, unless the deceased has formally recorded a preference for a burial.

“Often in these cases there is no estate for the deceased, so the cost is borne by the council and local taxpayers. In order to keep costs to a minimum, we do not arrange a service and a simple cremation takes place either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day when the crematorium itself is closed to the public.”

In total, the 383 councils across the UK that responded spent £6.3 million on more than 4,000 funerals over the period.

Royal London also found that 21 councils by default do not return ashes to bereaved families after a cremation, and 18 charge for ashes to be returned, with fees varying between £10 and £18.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We are aware of concerns around the different services local authorities provide for public health funerals and are considering the matter.”

Funeral cost expert Louise Eaton-Terry said it is “incredibly sad” when bereaved families are forced to seek a public health funeral.

"But when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear that they are being treated unfairly,” she added.

"It's about time the system was overhauled, and we're calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one's ashes."

Nearly a third of the funerals were because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost of a private funeral, the mutual insurer added.

A Local Government Association spokesman said: "With local authorities facing challenging funding pressures, the increase in the number of public health funerals is putting further pressure on council budgets, and driving them to limit the costs they incur in arranging these funerals."