‘Morally wrong’ charges changed for internments of children

Richmondshire District Council's offices at Mercury House.

‘Morally wrong’ charges for internments of children linked to a 19th century education law have been changed in a move to show greater compassion to grieving parents.

A meeting of Richmondshire District Council’s corporate board heard it would be among the country’s first authorities to raise the age for full internment charges from 12 to 18.

Members were told the charging system, which is rubber-stamped annually by councils across the country, is believed to date to 1899, when the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act was amended to raise school leaving age to 12.

Raising the issue, opposition councillor Clive World said as children were expected to remain in education until 18 it was not acceptable to charge parents £800 rather than the £105 to intern the bodies of children aged 12 and under.

He also questioned why a source of the council’s income included £29 charges to intern the bodies of babies who died in their first month and stillborn children.

He added: “You’ve got to think of the parents and families for anything like this. I feel we could and should be compassionate in these two instances.”

The council’s leader, Councillor Yvonne Peacock, thanked Cllr World for raising the issues and said the charges appeared to have been rubber-stamped without significant thought about their suitability or consequences.

She said: “Sometimes these things just happen, they have been there a long time and we keep turning them over.”

Officers told the meeting changing the charging policy would have a minimal impact of the authority’s income.

Cllr World praised the authority’s leaders for agreeing the internment charging system was “totally archaic”, and added the policy change was his proudest achievement as an authority member for 23 years.

He said: “I have never had anything like that happen to me or my children, but to charge any amount is morally wrong. I can’t imagine what parents are going through at that stage.

“We are years later in doing this than we should have been, but I would hope this encourages other councils for the good. A child is a child until they leave school.”