Nearly £49,000 has been spent on public health funerals — known as pauper burials — by councils in Northern Ireland since 2016.
Belfast City Council takes the top spot with 23 funerals over a five-year period up to 2020 at a cost of £32,115.
The single biggest year for pauper funerals was 2018, with nine services taking place.
A public health funeral is held when the deceased has no traceable relatives, or the family is unable or unwilling to arrange and pay for a service.
The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, has described the spending by local authorities as evidence of a “worryingly growing trend in the loneliness epidemic” here.
A total of £48,447 has been spent by councils in Northern Ireland for 51 funerals since 2016. The figures were disclosed in a series of Freedom of Information requests.
The second highest council was Ards and North Down, which spent a total of £5,275 between 2016 and 2020, followed by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council which ranks third with £2,505 for six funerals.
Placed fourth was Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council with two services costing a total of £1,852, one place higher than Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon in sixth place with six public health services costing £1,340.
Ranked seventh was Fermanagh and Omagh with a single cremation service that cost £1,140. Mid Ulster also had only a single public health funeral at £995, while Mid and East Antrim had none.
Derry and Strabane council, meanwhile, said it did not hold any figures for pauper’s funerals.
Mr Lynch said the figures underline the importance of the implementation of a loneliness strategy to tackle the issue in Northern Ireland.
“It’s incredibly sad when families are either unwilling or unable to pay the cost of a funeral and have to resort to seeking a publicly funded funeral,” he said. “The increase in council funded funerals over the past year also shows a worryingly growing trend in the loneliness has to be a priority for our society.”
He added: “I believe there is a strong need for a loneliness strategy to be introduced in Northern Ireland to address this growing problem.”
Meanwhile, the average cost of a funeral in Northern Ireland in 2021 dropped by 7.4% to £3,222, according to figures compiled by SunLife’s latest Cost of Dying report.
Northern Ireland has the lowest average funeral cost in the UK. In London, where costs are the highest, the cost was £2,000 more than NI, with the average funeral costing £5,235, following a 3.4% rise.
However, the average cost of a UK funeral has decreased for the first time since research started in 2004, the report found.
The typical cost of a basic funeral was £4,054 in 2021, marking a 3.1% decrease compared with 2020, according to the financial services provider.
In 2020, the average cost of a funeral, including burials and cremations, was put at £4,184.
The research was released at a time when general household costs are surging.
Direct cremations, where the ashes are returned to family members who can make their own service arrangements, have increased in popularity, the research found. A direct cremation costs around £1,647 typically.
Although funeral costs were found to have generally fallen in the past year, many people are still struggling to pay for them.
SunLife’s research found around one in six (17%) families had experienced notable financial concerns when paying for a funeral.