Families who cannot afford to arrange a funeral are not receiving the ashes of their loved ones.

Watford Borough Council is one of 21 councils in the UK that does not return ashes of loved ones to a traceable family after a public health cremation funeral.

Royal London, a life insurance group that helps with pensions and investments, is now calling on all local councils to return ashes to traceable families following a Freedom of Information request.

Public health funerals are arranged by local councils if the deceased person has no traceable family, or the family are unable or unwilling to pay for a funeral.

In 2018/19, Watford Council spent £2,337 for public health funerals, a small proportion of the total £6.3million spent in the UK.

It was also found that 18 councils do return ashes, but with a fee, and 14 councils do not allow traceable families to even attend the funeral.

Louise Eaton-Terry, a funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “It’s incredibly sad when bereaved families have no choice but 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.

“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.”

About 23 per cent of the 4,000 public health funerals in the UK were undertaken by local councils because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost.

Elected Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor, said: “In the case of public health funerals we do as much as we can to respect and accommodate the wishes and religious beliefs of the person who has passed away, as well as bereaved family members and friends that come forward.

"Where there is the absence of a written legal will and there is conflicting requests for ashes from within families, we scatter the ashes somewhere public so that all those who want to can visit and remember their loved one in a peaceful and appropriate setting.”