The co-op gave me my husband’s ashes – but the box had another man’s name inside: Sally sorting them
Last summer, my husband, from whom I was estranged, died suddenly. As his next of kin, it was left to me to arrange his cremation, which I did through Co-op Funeralcare.
When she opened the box containing the ashes on the day of the planned scattering, she found a sheet of paper with another man’s details on it. The shock was indescribable.
Whose ashes did I have and what hope did I have of putting things right? Immediately.
A reader was shocked to find the wrong name on the box containing her husband’s ashes before her planned scattering of ashes
Sally Hamilton answers: The letter you sent me revealed in full the extent of the distress you and your four adult children were subjected to after the death of your husband and the terrible mistake made over his ashes.
You told me how you met your husband for the first time in a while in town one day and agreed to meet him for coffee. When he didn’t show up, instinct told you something was wrong, and you went to his apartment where you found him tragically dead, later confirmed to be of natural causes.
As his next of kin, you had to vacate the apartment and deal with debt requirements.
Amidst this pressure, I arranged his cremation. Because he had so little money, the Department for Work and Pensions agreed to foot the bill of £1,195 to the local branch of Co-op Funeralcare, with just £300 contributing – the remaining balance in your husband’s bank account.
Arrangements were delayed as Co-op informed you that the invoice had not been paid, while DWP insisted on this. Weeks passed until the Co-op confirmed the bill had been paid and the body was cremated in September.
When you collected the ashes, they were supposed to be in a box inside a bag with your husband’s details written on it.
She planned to scatter his ashes in the sea as he wanted. Only on the day of the planned dispersal did I open the box to remove the bag and discovered the paper containing another man’s details.
After a series of calls and texts to the Co-op, she requested a letter confirming the ashes she had received. You said the branch manager refused to accept responsibility and asked you to return the ashes personally.
This involved a 120-mile round trip by car. The staff took the piece of paper containing the other man’s details and told you that the ashes you received were your husband’s.
I left unconvinced and asked to write this confirmation. Some time later, you receive a letter – unsigned and undated – offering compensation of £200. You became angry and felt unable to scatter the ashes until you were more sure.
By the time we spoke, I had made a complaint through the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), which runs an impartial complaints service. In the meantime, I asked Co-op Funeralcare to give me their side of the story. It has been said that the ashes I received were definitely the correct ashes and that an administrative error was the reason why the wrong piece of paper fell into the box.
A company spokesperson said: “We have robust procedures in place for the identification, care and return of ashes.” A thorough investigation was carried out, and we have assured the reader that the ashes she received were those of her late husband.
The “strong measures” include printing a label from the digital records of the deceased, which is applied to the outside of the crematorium. After cremation, this label is placed on a biodegradable bag containing the ashes.
A second label listing the deceased’s name is then placed on the box in which the bag of ashes is placed. Finally, a cremation certificate is placed inside the box – which also contains the name of the deceased. The Co-op said it records the ashes when they are received and another label is created, which is placed inside the box and only removed once the ashes are collected. At this point, things have gone very wrong in your case, as one of the cooperative employees entered the wrong paperwork.
“Due to an administrative error, a label was incorrectly placed inside the box containing her husband’s ashes,” the spokesman said. “We are deeply sorry for the distress this has caused.”
However, the co-op insisted that the ashes box contain three identification tags bearing your husband’s name. She added that since you requested the return of any metals from your husband’s body and coffin, they were presented in a separate bag in the trunk, with his name and cremation number on it.
You are still unhappy, even after the NAFD Dispute Resolution Service’s findings have accepted the Co-op’s interpretation. However, for the sake of your mental health, you have now, six months after your husband’s death and with my intervention, decided to settle. The Co-op came back with a compensation offer of £750, which it accepted. You are now planning to scatter the ashes.
I understand why you feel unsettled. There can be no conclusive proof that the ashes are his. DNA test will not resolve your doubts, because it will be destroyed by the heat of cremation.
Many bereaved families will be concerned about this story and, like me, hope that the funeral industry will do its best to avoid such mix-ups.
This may be little consolation, but the cooperative has confirmed that “retraining and education have been undertaken to ensure all necessary lessons are learned.”
I’m at the end of my rope with the NatWest card mess
On 19 November 2022, my husband used his NatWest debit card at the ChangeGroup ATM in Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal, to withdraw £200 from our joint bank account. The outside of the machine says withdrawals are free, but when the follow-up request came up, it included a transaction fee. He canceled immediately.
Within a minute his phone rang saying £200 had gone out of our account.
My husband called ChangeGroup and told him he might see an error that would be corrected. It has been over a year and the money has not been returned to our account. please help.
DL, Castletown, Isle of Man.
Sally Hamilton answers: You turned to your bank, NatWest, to recover the lost cash, but got nowhere and felt right at the end of your rope. You asked the bank to step up its efforts and within a few days an employee contacted you directly.
He apologized profusely and arranged for the £200 to be returned.
Interestingly, it was from the fraud department, suggesting that the bank suspected foul play somewhere along the line, but offered no other explanation.
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(tags for translation) Daily Mail