The families of people who die in NSW will soon be able to lease a grave site for 25 years, before the remains are dug up so the site can be used for another burial.
The state government says the optional 25-year term, which can be renewed for up to 99 years, will help free-up space at over-crowded cemeteries.
But critics of the plan argue that it could place more pressure on families during the already emotionally-testing period of losing a loved one.
Opponents also say introducing a 25-year option could drive up the cost for families who want grave sites that remain in place forever.
Amendments to the Cemetery and Crematoria Act 2013 are open for public feedback on the Crown Lands website until Friday.
According to the new regulation, cemetery operators must disclose the relevant fees to the family of the deceased person, but it “must include a statement that the disclosed fees and charges are subject to change”.
Leesa Warren, who has about 40 family members buried at Sandgate Cemetery, fears the offer of 25-year plots would drive prices up and make perpetual graves unaffordable for many people. She was also concerned that the new regulation would create a situation long into the future where people could be blindsided by fees to keep a relative’s remains in the ground.
“It’s also going to put pressure on families as to who is going to be the person that the decision is put to,” Ms Warren said.
“It’s always emotional, because it’s your loved one.”
A Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW fact sheet about the change noted that the regulation “will not operate retrospectively – all existing graves and rights continue exactly as they were prior to the new legislation”.
“Perpetual interment rights will continue to be available and there will be no impact on existing perpetual graves or rights,” it noted.
A spokesperson told Fairfax Media that a cemetery capacity report for the Hunter and Central Coast would be released in the first half of 2018.
The spokesperson said the renewable interment rights would be “entirely voluntary and will not impact on perpetual interment rights currently in place”.
"The introduction of a consistent regulatory framework for renewable interment is just one initiative proposed to address projected cemetery capacity shortages,” the spokesperson said.
Cemetery operators will have to contact the holder of the renewable interment right 12 months before it’s due to expire – every three months until the expiry date if they receive no reply.
Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery heavily criticised the new regulation.
“Your loved ones could only get 25 years in their grave before being dug up and stashed in a bone room under this new plan,” she said.
“We are potentially looking at a situation where families will be contacted years down the track by cemetery operators demanding additional payment or face having their loved ones dug up.
“This plan creates a situation where long-term burial would depend on someone’s capacity to pay.”