Cry on your own time: bill for family who grieved too long

GRIEVING families face hefty overtime bills if they spend too long next to a gravesite at a Sunshine Coast cemetery.

One of the Coast's longest-serving and most respected funeral homes, Gregson and Weight, received a $230 bill from the Sunshine Coast Council because some people did not leave Caloundra cemetery quickly enough.

But Royce Gregson said the council's cemetery staff were based at Kulangoor, near Nambour, which was a long distance from some cemeteries.

WE SAY: IT'S PLAIN CALLOUS TO CHARGE GRIEVING FAMILIES

Cemetery staff also worked from 7am to 4pm, which meant a midday funeral at Caloundra followed by a burial was at risk of incurring overtime charges.

"Because of the distance cemeteries such as Witta or Peachester are, the situation is even worse," Mr Gregson said.

The cost of the penalty is about to increase.

The council has approved a 25% increase to overtime charges at cemeteries - from $109 for 30 minutes to $136 from July 1.

What do you think about fees for staying at a cemetery for too long?

This poll ended on 30 June 2015.

Current Results

Disgraceful, how did politics get involved in the grieving process?!

70%

It makes sense, there needs to be rules

5%

I'm confused, I don't see why cemetery visits should be timed

24%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

A council spokesman said it was standard practice to invoice funeral directors when they made arrangements for a burial with a cemetery service.

"Since 2010, the council has adopted a user-pays service and costing model for cemetery services to over time reduce the ongoing cost to the general ratepayer," he said.

Cemetery operations had been based at Kulangoor since amalgamation in 2008 and there had been "few, if any, issues in the past".

Mr Gregson was certain that in the incident at Caloundra, the family and staff had left the cemetery at 2.30pm to be back for the public funeral service at 3pm.

"It may have been other people stood around, but that's not the family's problem," he said.

When he received the invoice in the post a few days later, he decided not to pass it on to the family and has refused to pay it.

He has been advised by "cemetery management" they will "proceed with action to recover the monies".

"I understand they will pass the bill on to debt collectors," Mr Gregson said.

"We are not worried about the $230, it is the principle that bothers us."

Mr Gregson understood the need for the council to recover costs where possible, but said raising prices was only "one side of the equation".

"I believe the level of bureaucracy and the way things are done in the Sunshine Coast cemeteries is inflating the costs to the council,'' he said.

"At the same time, they are reducing the quality of service to the community."

He said council workers were entitled to knock off, but the council had to realise "it's a community service".

"They have to try and recoup most of the costs, that's fine. But they also have to be fair to the people of Caloundra when the cemetery staff have a lot further to travel to get back to Kulangoor."

The council spokesman said that for various reasons, including the privacy of other mourners, it was important for funeral directors to adhere to a schedule.

"In this case, it appears those timeframes were exceeded by some margin and the funeral director was no longer on site," he said.

"As fees and charges are set, those costs are charged to funeral directors and they hold at their discretion the ability to forward such fees to clients."



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