Parents who experience the tragic loss of a child aged 16 or 17 can now benefit from free funeral arrangements, after Co-op Funeralcare extended its long-standing free child funerals policy to include older children.

For the past three decades the free service has been available to parents, grandparents or legal guardians who lose a child aged 0-15, and is estimated to have aided about 25,000 bereaved families to date.

Co-op says it provides this support because it believes the often sudden nature of a child's death, combined with the costs of a funeral, can place families in financial hardship.

For further help on the financial implications of a bereavement, see our What To Do When Someone Dies guide.

What does Co-op's service cover?

The free service for children includes a hearse, limousine, coffin, transport, support from Co-op Funeralcare staff and the use of one of its chapels. While some undertakers don't charge for child funerals, the cost if you do have to pay for these things could typically run into £1,000s.

However, the free service doesn't cover third-party and local-authority costs, such as burial/cremation fees and clergy costs. Co-op Funeralcare estimates these can on average cost just over £1,000, though some local authorities now waive burial and cremation costs for under-18s.

Co-op's decision to extend its free provision has been welcomed by Labour's Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, who has campaigned for the Government to fund the cost of child funerals after struggling to pay for the funeral of her eight-year-old son Martin, who was tragically knocked down by a car and killed in 1989.

Harris said: "The cost of a child's funeral adds tremendous pressure to bereaved parents and this compassionate response by the Co-op reaffirms my faith in the funeral industry that has always maintained great respect and compassion at this most dreadful time."

Co-op Funeralcare CEO Richard Lancaster said: "Dealing with the death of a child is a devastating experience for any parent and having to comprehend this as well as sorting out the funeral and associated costs makes this experience even more traumatic.

"We hope that others will now improve and extend their own policies on child funeral costs, meaning that funding support across the UK goes much further to assist bereaved parents."