Coroners’ fees cause concern for Government audit service

Some coroners paid on the double while undertaker services not subject to tender

Almost one third of €11m spend  related to Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Almost one third of €11m spend related to Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Concerns about the fees paid to the State’s 38 coroners, and the contracting of undertaker services by local authorities, have been raised by a Government audit.

The value-for-money audit, undertaken by the Local Government Audit Service, found €11 million was spent on coroner services in 2015, including undertaker fees, pathologist fees and local authority administration, as well as coroner costs. Almost one third of these costs related to Dublin.

Retainers and fees paid to the 38 county and city coroners amounted to €2.663 million of the 2015 total, up from €2.426 million in 2014 and €2.287million in 2013.

Coroners are paid annual retainers ranging from €12,807 to €21,774 depending on the number of deaths reported to them. They also receive a fee for each death they deal with.

The report found the retainers paid “may not be in line with the actual number of reported cases dealt with in the period for some coroners”.

Concerns were also raised that local authorities were paying the fees per death through their own payroll system, when they should be treated as “professional fees” for tax purposes.

Undertakers

Payments to undertakers, to transport the deceased to morgues and hospitals, were also called into question, with just one unnamed local authority carrying out a tendering process for this service. The report also found a lack of consistency in the undertaker service provided to local authorities with “large variations” in the amounts charged.

“When rates quoted were compared between each of the local authorities, they were not consistent with other undertakers throughout the country for similar work and shorter distances.”

The report also found that no new coroners had been appointed in 18 years and more than 40 per cent were over the age of 60. When asked why they had not appointed new coroners, more than half of the local authorities said they were not aware they were required to. Others said they were waiting for the Coroners Bill 2007 to be enacted.

As part of its recommendations, the audit service said new legislation would allow for “a more coherent organisation of coronial work and appointment process for coroners, than is currently in place”. It also recommended that “detailed guidance” be issued to local authorities on the matter of appointments, and the payment of fees and retainers.