Birmingham burial fees row eased

By Cathy Forman, February 11, 2010

Meetings were held this week in an effort to resolve a long-running dispute over burial fees between Birmingham’s two Orthodox synagogues.

On Wednesday evening the shul councils of Birmingham Hebrew Congregation (Singers Hill) and Central Synagogue met separately to discuss plans for a solution.

Central leaders have been enraged by steep rises in burial fees and maintenance charges from Singers Hill, which looks after the Witton and Brandwood End cemeteries on behalf of the community.

For three years, Central has refused to pay an almost doubled annual maintenance charge for the grounds from Singers Hill, insisting there was “no justification” for the £5,000 claimed. It is however, paying the former amount of £2,800.

In addition, the individual burial charge was doubled from £1,500 to £3,000 in 2006 and raised again last year to £3,500. And at the end of 2009, Singers Hill informed the Central that it proposed to discontinue the annual maintenance charge but would raise the burial fee for Central members to £5,500.

Central president Geoffrey Clements complained: “A differential has been created for our members. We understand the need to fund and maintain the cemeteries to the highest of standards. Indeed the 100 per cent increase in burial charges some three years ago easily achieved this.”

He pointed out that in maintaining the city’s mikveh, Central had kept charges to Singers Hill in line with or below inflation. In fact, the current annual charge to Singers Hill of £1,705 had been unchanged since 2007.

Although the option had been considered of bringing the matter before the London Beth Din, this would be a last resort.
The burials dispute follows failed attempts to agree a merger between the two shuls, located a mile apart, which have dwindling congregations.
Singers Hill chairman Keith Rowe would say only that “BHC are extremely concerned about this matter. We are considering how best the situation can be resolved.”

Last updated: 3:43pm, February 11 2010