DUDLEY Council spent nearly £80,000 on "paupers funerals” in 2017-18, according to new figures.

Mutual insurer Royal London received responses from 275 local authorities to Freedom of Information requests about the cost of public health funerals across the UK.

A total of £5,382,379 was spent across the UK on public health funerals which are also known as paupers’ funerals - "no frills" services provided by the local authority - and Dudley was among the ten authorities with the highest spends.

The council was the sixth highest spending authority, according to the figures, having spent a total of £79,679 between April 1 2017 and March 31 2018.

Councillor Cathy Bayton, Dudley’s cabinet member for health and adult social care, said the council arranged 60 funerals, at an average cost of £1,327, which included the cost of an obituary notice, the provision of a coffin, suitable transport for the funeral, crematorium and minister fees and a small floral display.

She said: “We all have a right to a proper funeral and for many of us, we are fortunate to have loved ones or friends that would make all the necessary arrangements. However, there are a small number of cases each year when someone dies with no known blood relatives and no arrangements in place to meet the costs of a funeral. This is when we have a statutory responsibility to arrange the funeral. "In every case, we also attempt to contact the relatives to inform them of the death and if no one comes forward, we proceed to make the necessary arrangements.”

The amount spent by local authorities on public health funerals in 2017-18 increased by 3.5 per cent compared with 2016-17, according to the research, based on those councils who provided data for both financial years.

But councillor Bayton added: "For that year, we were able to recover more than £27,000 from the estates of people who had passed away.”

Birmingham City Council spent the most on “paupers funerals” - spending a total of £990,437 that year; while Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in northern Ireland was the lowest spending authority - forking out just £275 for public health funerals that year.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of families nationally who turned to their council for a public health funeral did so because they were unable to foot the bill, Royal London found.

Other reasons for public health funerals included the deceased having no family, and families unwilling to pay for the funeral - the mutual insurer said.

A Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman said: "It is a sad fact that there are thousands of people, mostly elderly, across the country with no family or friends to care for them or arrange, attend or pay for their funeral.

"Public health funerals are a last resort but, where there is no-one able to pay for a funeral, councils will hold one in a respectful and dignified way.

"Councils will try to establish whether the deceased had any religious requirements to enable them to respect their wishes in the provision of a burial or cremation."

He continued: "Councils can recover costs from the estate; however, in some cases people will die without an estate, in which case councils will bear the full costs themselves.

"The increase in these funerals (is) an extra pressure on over-stretched council budgets which pay for them."

He said the figures also "mask the number of funerals paid for by the NHS when people die in hospital".