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UK authorities want to reuse graves as burial space diminishes

Laws in effect since Victorian times are causing UK funeral authorities problems as burial space runs low. Some have requested to reuse old graves and policy reviews are ongoing.

Does the New Year make anyone else think of death? Just me then… okay.

We apologise for such a morbid topic so early in the year, but a squeamish attitude is probably what landed us here in the first place.

Cemeteries throughout England and Wales are running out of space to bury the dead, and calls to overhaul an archaic legislation stretching back over 120 years are getting louder.

Dating back to the Victorian era, a set of rules governing both England and Wales ratified that no grave can ever be reused – no matter how much time has passed, and how sparse graves become.

Today, that stipulation remains in effect, and it has come to pass that many cemeteries have used up all available space. Tower Hamlets, Brent, and parts of Oxfordshire are at full capacity and the pandemic’s death toll has put the strain on those still operating.

‘We can’t keep building new sites, there isn’t the space available, and if a local authority runs a cemetery it has a duty to maintain it – so it’s costing money but there’s no income because there are no burials,’ said Julie Dunk, chief executive at the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management.

With the demand for graves never ceasing and allocations rapidly filling, the prices of funerals are being hiked up too compounding the problem as companies seek revenue to stay afloat. The last decade has reportedly seen an alarming rise of 62% on that front.

There’s also the matter of ‘residents vs non-residents’ and how certain authorities will charge far more to bury folk without a local postcode. For context, to bury a resident in Lewisham, you’re looking at around £4,500 compared to £11,100 for non-residents.

A cohort of cemetery experts want to see a commitment to relax planning permissions in burial plots. They’re asking for graves to be dug deeper so century-old caskets can be layered below, and funeral director Paul McClean suggests that cremations should be subsidised as an incentive.

‘If it is not addressed at government level imminently, I think – this is a guess born out of experience and talking to others within the trade – within the next 10 years if nothing is done we will hit a big problem,’ he says.

Of course, the notion of disturbing the dead at all is a sensitive subject and one that many people simply will not get on board with. At this avenue, however, something has to give if the funeral industry is to avoid collapse in the coming decade.

In response to growing concerns, a government spokesperson has revealed that policy changes are likely to be modernised within the next year. Whether that will be soon enough, though, is anyone’s guess.