Bodies abandoned in morgue
Australian Funeral Directors Association WA division president Adrian Barrett.

The bodies of WA's lonely, poor and elderly are being abandoned in morgues because family have lost contact or assume they cannot afford a funeral.

The Public Trustee arranged 264 burials for bodies not claimed in the 3½ years to December 31, at a cost of about $3000 each.

A North Metropolitan Health Service spokeswoman said unclaimed bodies had created "space limitations" at the State Mortuary before a multimillion-dollar expansion last year lifted cold room capacity from 80 to 150 corpses.

If a body remains unclaimed for one month, it is referred to the Public Trustee, which will make inquiries with the next of kin, if one is known.

The Government will arrange a burial if the body remains unclaimed for longer than three months.

Though cremations are cheaper, starting from $830, by law the bodies must be buried unless directed otherwise through a will or in writing by the deceased.

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Irina Cattalini said she was worried more people appeared to be dying alone.

She said the elderly, singles and those with mental health issues were most at risk of slipping through the cracks.

"We are concerned about growing social isolation in the community," she said. "We need to make sure that we continue to foster community responses that help people stay connected to their families and friends.

"It helps to prevent these very, very sad stories."

Ms Cattalini said some families, particularly those in remote indigenous communities, left bodies unclaimed because they thought they could not afford a funeral.

Australian Funeral Directors Association WA division president Adrian Barrett said a 2009 State government decision to temporarily scrap its bereavement assistance program might have left people confused about whether help was available.

Mr Barrett said the cost of funerals had not increased notably in recent years but cemetery fees, particularly in regional areas, were rising.

The Department for Child Protection and Family Support's program partly or fully funded 194 funerals in 2012-13 and has assisted more than 120 families this financial year.

The West Australian

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