THE cost of burying a child under the age of five has nearly trebled under new charges introduced by East Lothian Council.

Just weeks after plans to scrap charges for burying children in England and Wales were announced, the local authority has introduced huge increases in the cost in the county.

Charges for a child under the age of five have gone up from £35 to £100, while the cost of burying a child under 17 have risen from £89 to £200. A £25 charge for interment of stillborn babies has been dropped – there will now be no charge.

The move has sparked anger from the council’s SNP Group who accused the local authority of hiding the new charges in an “obscure” part of the council website.

Child bereavement charity SiMBA has called on the council to reconsider its decision.

But Councillor Norman Hampshire (Lab), acting council leader, insisted that the charges remained below the average charged by councils and still did not cover the cost of the service provided.

The Scottish Government will be given devolved powers to decide on funeral charges from summer 2019 but has so far declined to commit to setting up a fund to cover child funerals, a move already promised by Prime Minister Theresa May and by the Welsh Government.

SNP councillors in East Lothian reacted angrily to the rise in costs in the county after a paper revealing all charge increases across local authority services was lodged in the Members Service Library on the council website by officials, instead of going before a public council meeting for approval.

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader, said: “We should be trying to ease the financial pressures on families at a time of unimaginable loss.

“That these charges are still in place is just wrong and we want to take action to remove them now.

“It is a disgrace that Labour councillors have approved a massive increase in these charges by stealth and without having the guts to bring them to the council for elected councillors to debate.

“If Labour councillors approved these increases then they should be ashamed of themselves; if they did not know then the cabinet member responsible should consider if they are up to the job.

“However, they now have the chance to rectify this error of judgement and remove these charges at the council meeting on April 24.”

Sara Fitzsimmons, executive director of SiMBA, also called for a rethink.

She said: “My understanding was any charge for a child was nominal and parents understood that but to go from £35 to £100 means it is no longer a nominal cost. I would urge the council to reconsider this decision.”

The paper, produced by officials, includes the average of “comparator” local authorities’ charges for burials of children both under the age of five and above, revealing both to be higher than the new charges introduced by East Lothian Council.

However, only nine out of the 32 local authorities in Scotland charge for child burials and the cost varies hugely across the country.

A recent survey revealed that, of the nine that charge, the highest fees are in Dundee, where burial of a child between the ages of two and 11 can cost up to £408 and rises to £827 for children over the age of 12.

In Inverclyde the charge is £36.30 to bury a child under the age of 16.

Scottish Borders Council charges fees of up to £272 for a child under the age of eight and up to £377 for children under 16.

In Midlothian it costs £435 for children between five and 18, and £200 for under-fives.

However, Edinburgh and Fife councils do not charge for child burials.

Mr Hampshire said that the new charges, which are at the discretion of the local authority, were introduced following a review to ensure that fees “are keeping pace with the costs incurred to deliver the service and with annual rates of inflation”.

He said: “On the specific point of child burials, the under-five burial is still set at a 50 per cent reduction from the cost of a child interment and this fee is still set at less than the cost of providing the service.

“Of the councils that charge for interment of minors within the Lothians, Borders and Fife area, East Lothian fees in 2018/19 are considerably below the average charge, even compared to the regional figures for 2017-18.

“Our priority is to continue protecting services as far as possible while continuing the journey towards an even more prosperous, safe and sustainable East Lothian that enables all people and communities to flourish.

“We are aware of the pledge by Westminster to fund funeral costs for minors and that this area of policy is under review by the Scottish Government so we await their decision on this with interest.”

Earlier this week a Scottish Government spokesperson said they were “actively considering” ways to support parents who lose a child, adding: “We will introduce new funeral expense assistance from summer 2019.”