Wigan Council has apologised for the distress caused to a grieving family forced to wait two months to lay a loved one to rest.
Bereaved relatives wanted to bury the ashes of their mother and grandmother in a family plot next to her late husband but “red tape” caused an unnecessary delay, they claim.
If common sense stood for anything, it would surely just be a matter of establishing who is already buried in the plot and the relationship of the person to be buried. What person in their right mind would object to a woman being buried with her husband?
Council bosses have today said they “understand the frustration” of the family - who have asked to remain anonymous - but emphasised guidelines are there for legal protection.
The daughter-in-law of the deceased told the Observer how the elderly relative died after a battle with cancer late last year and had expected to be laid to rest next to her late husband, who died in 1997.
The plot, located in Hindley Cemetery, was bought in 1955 and is the resting place of several members of the family.
However, with the plot registered in the name of one of these late relatives, the council asked for the legal ownership to be transferred across to a living relative.
In order for this to happen, family details, including birth, death and burial details of several late relatives plus their partners had to be submitted to the council.
And all surviving grandchildren would have to make a statutory declaration or give permission, resulting in a grieving family having to “run around like headless chickens.”
Further hurdles also had to be cleared, including having to pay a £60 charge to Wigan’s bereavement services to obtain some of the required information, the family said.
The complainant told the Observer: “I understand there’s a need to establish ownership but I think in these particular and already difficult circumstances, something very important was overlooked; the entitlement of the actual person who has died.
“If common sense stood for anything, it would surely just be a matter of establishing who is already buried in the plot and the relationship of the person to be buried. What person in their right mind would object to a woman being buried with her husband?
“The council should seriously consider reviewing this process and spare people the upset and stress bereaved families are being put through, being asked to jump through hoops so that records can be brought up-to-date.
“What on earth would have happened had she wanted to be buried, not cremated?
The family has called on the council to provide a fact-sheet on its website to help families going through similar circumstances, or at least provide step-by-step guidance.
Their relative was finally laid to rest last month, more than two months after her death.
Paul Barton, assistant director for operational services, told the Observer: “We fully understand the frustration with this case and apologise for any distress the family have felt during this difficult time.
“Unfortunately we have to follow a legal process when it comes to burial plot ownership and this sometimes does require additional information about the family tree in order for us to issue a statutory declaration.
“This can be a complicated legal process and may take some time but we do everything we can to explain this to families and reassure them that we need to follow these guidelines to protect them and their loved ones.”
Hindley ward councillor Jim Churton said: “Firstly, I am very sorry for the extra distress this has caused to this family at an already emotional time, they have my sincere condolences.
“Unfortunately the ‘bureaucracy’ referred to is not of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s making, it is national legislation set down to try and ensure the doubly distressing mistake of burying a beloved one in the wrong plot does not occur, however most people only become aware of it when it comes to a time of great stress and sadness.
“The Bereavement Services are putting a press release together to try and make the public more aware of this issue and I hope that no other family has to go through this distressing process, I repeat that the family has my sympathies.”