A leading Tory has waded into a religious row over burial fees.

Mark Eastwood, chairman of the Dewsbury County Conservative Association, has backed complaints from Muslims over Kirklees Council’s plans to charge more on Friday afternoons.

The council’s plans to hike the cost of dying have already caused controversy.

Officials say the bereavement service is running at a loss and the cost of burials and cremations must rise dramatically.

Huddersfield Crematorium, Fixby, Huddersfield
Huddersfield Crematorium, Fixby, Huddersfield

Anger flared at a council meeting in September when new charges were proposed with dozens of people from Muslim communities, including the Huddersfield Muslim Burial Council, attending to accuse the council of religious discrimination.

Their complaints centre on new fees for services in the evening or at the weekend.

Muslims, and some other faiths, require their dead to be buried within 24 hours, meaning they cannot be scheduled at cheaper times.

The proposals are to charge a £477 premium for out-of-hours services and a £99 premium for Friday afternoons.

Most fees will be increased by 50% or more, although the current charges for burying children are set to be stopped completely.

A consultation is currently underway with the proposals set to be reviewed over the next few weeks.

But Mr Eastwood said he had decided to go over the council’s head and complain to the Government.

He has written to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to request for his department to investigate if the plans are discriminatory.

He said: “I believe there is no justification for this charge, on what is – in effect – a normal weekday, other than to target the Muslim community on a day which has religious significance.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid

Sajid Hussain, who approached Mr Eastwood for support, said: “By needlessly charging extra on Friday afternoons, the council is blatantly and shamelessly targeting my community.”

But Clr Mus Khan, the Cabinet member responsible, denied any religious group was being targeted.

“I’m very disappointed that Mark’s exploiting a very sensitive issue for political gain,” she said.

“The process of consultation on this is still underway and Cabinet has not made a decision yet.”

Kirklees Council member for Dalton, Clr Musarrat Khan

She added: “Friday surcharges are something we’ve been considering for a long time because it’s a high demand time of the week.

“Friday is popular for everybody, regardless of background or ethnicity or anything else.

“Some funeral directors are block booking Friday afternoons, which is preventing access for others.

“A peak time charge should open up Friday afternoons for the wider community.

“It’s more likely to free up spaces than the situation we have currently.”