GRIEVING families will be charged extra to bury their dead in part of the region if their loved ones lived outside the area.

The move, dubbed a death tax by opponents, is part of a Durham County Council cemeteries review and will come into force next year.

From April 1, burying someone who lived outside the county could cost up to double the £968 charged for people living in the council area.

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The exact fees will be agreed in the coming months.

The increase could affect families burying someone next to their late spouse, in the village of their birth or where they considered home, if they later moved away.

It has also angered people living just beyond the county boundary.

However, council chiefs said the change would protect burial space for locals’ use and mean cemeteries can be used for longer. Councillor Brian Stephens, the cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said he appreciated the issue was sensitive and emotive, but said he was pleased with the proposals.

He said public consultation had confirmed support for the changes, which would deliver a consistent and fair approach for bereaved people.

A consultation held from May to July found 56 per cent support for an increased charge. Most nearby councils, including Darlington, Newcastle, South Tyneside, Gateshead and Richmondshire, already charge extra.

The shake-up could also result in council officials asking parents to remove sentimental items from children’s graves. After three months from the date of burial, only a “couple of smaller items” will be allowed.

The other changes include: 􀁥 Creating a woodland burial site at South Road cemetery, in Durham City; 􀁥 Opening or extending cemeteries; 􀁥 Ensuring all new headstones are fitted to proper standards; 􀁥 Beginning work to deal with unsafe or fallen headstones; 􀁥 Charging people £17 for a family history search.

Many of the changes will come into force on October 1.

Earlier this year, the council came under fire for naming a seminar called to discuss the shake-up Grave Matters.

The council carried out 3,543 cremations and 763 burials in 2009-10. In the past 12 months, seven per cent of burials were of non-residents.