The high cost of dying goes up again

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The Independent Online

Local authorities face a bill totalling hundreds of millions of pounds to meet new European Union regulations for the disposal of the dead.

The new EU rules will force councils to upgrade crematoriums to ensure that mercury - a metal commonly found in fillings in teeth - does not escape into the environment.

Siemens Financial Services says authorities could have to pay an estimated £1m per crematorium to upgrade furnaces. However, the company says, leasing new equipment could prove cheaper.

The Government has imposed strict crematoriums rules to limit mercury pollution, instructing councils that filtering equipment must be fitted to halve emissions by 2012. This means all councils running crematoriums will have to consider upgrading their facilities over the next five years.

According to a survey of local authorities by Siemens, 16 per cent of respondents said they were looking to lease their new crematorium equipment rather than buying it using capital budgets.

James Russell, Siemens's director of sector treasury services said: "It is not realistic to expect councils to shoulder these costs out of existing budgets.

"The only way to stop crematorium costs from soaring is to acquire new equipment in the most financially cost-effective manner possible, and leasing provides an ideal solution," he said.

David Martin, the general manager of public sector at Siemens Financial Services, said: "Overall, the sums involved in upgrading equipment are simply beyond the means of most local authorities.

"Our experience certainly tallies with the views that came to light in this survey: some councils are already turning to leasing to defuse this financial time bomb."