Funeral director queries ash cash

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012
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Grieving families are being charged up to $180 for cremation certificates, a practice known as "ash cash" which is being questioned by an Invercargill funeral director.

The Southern District Health Board is one of 12 recently revealed as still charging families a fee for signing the certificates.

Elsewhere in the country, the fees, which were usually between $30 and $90, went into a collective to cover a range of expenses including morning teas, doctor welcomes or farewells, and Sky TV.

However, a statement issued by the Southern DHB said fees went directly to doctors and therefore the board did not have a record of the amount charged to families or the amount collected.

These fees are then invoiced to funeral homes.

Macdonald and Weston Funeral Home director Rose Anderson said cremation certificate fees that came from both hospital doctors and GPs averaged about $80 to $130, with $180 the highest fee she had seen charged.

Though cremation was a choice, families should not have to pay an extra charge, she said.

She declined to say how many funerals her company handled each year but said about half were cremations.

"I don't see why they should charge extra," she said. Families rarely questioned the fee.

Resident Doctors' Association spokeswoman Deborah Powell said the association had questioned the need for a cremation fee because there was now less work involved for hospital doctors.

Doctors used to have to sign off for cremations after checking the deceased did not have a pacemaker, which could explode.

Doctors also used to have to sign a paper saying they knew the deceased. This was no longer the case as the process was streamlined, she said.

Twenty years ago, this would have taken half an hour but now it took half that time.

While doctors charged the fee outside their salary, it went into a collective that funded events like going-away morning teas for resident doctors. The perks were part of retaining doctors and if they did not come out of the fund, they would come from somewhere else, she said.

New Zealand Medical GP Council chair Dr Mark Peterson said the situation was different for GPs who often had to travel to sign off for a cremation certificate and visibly view the body.

Filling out forms to sign off a cremation certificate took about 10 minutes.

Certificate fees were also part of a GP's income - there was no other form of reimbursement.

There was no set fee that he knew of.

While $180 was high - "sometimes more than sufficient" - there were probably situations where it was not enough, he said.

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The health board did not say if cremation certificate charges would continue, or if the practice would stop. gwyneth.hyndman@stl.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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