The cost of saying goodbye, even in a modest way, might be a surprise if you’ve never organised a funeral before. What’s more, the cost of burial and cremation funerals has been steadily rising over the last decade, according to Matter Communications research 1.
But we’re all going to be laid to rest eventually. So what can we do to help get protection from these increasing costs, and ease the financial burden on loved ones, when it comes to footing the funeral bill?
The cost of a funeral: now and then
Let’s go back to 2011, when a basic funeral in the UK cost an average of £2,971. This included the cost of a cremation or burial, transporting the body, a family viewing, a hearse and limousine, a veneer coffin, a funeral procession and the preparation and care of the body.
Fast forward just eight years to 2019, and you’d be looking at paying £4,202 for the same services – a 41% increase, which is above the Retail Price Index (RPI) rate of inflation 2.
And don’t forget, these figures don’t include optional funeral extras that can increase the total bill, like the cost of flowers, catering for the wake, or a memorial, like a headstone.
Does the type of funeral you choose affect what you pay?
Cremations are, more often than not, cheaper than burials. The average cost of a burial in the UK is £5,000, while you’d be paying an average of £3,986 for a cremation. A direct cremation is the least expensive way to say goodbye, being a simple funeral, without a service.
It’s worth remembering that, whichever type of funeral you choose, a no-frills goodbye will naturally cost less than something more elaborate. So you can choose to keep it simple and help control some costs that way.
In the UK, between 2011 and 2019, 79% of UK send-offs were cremation funerals, and 21% were burials.
The cost of dying where you live
It’s not just one flat rate. Even when comparing like-for-like funerals, there are regional differences in what you pay.
While London and the South East were the most expensive places to be laid to rest, the West Midlands and Wales were among the cheapest.
The difference is especially stark when it comes to a burial funeral. In Greater London, you’d be paying an average of £7,883. In Yorkshire and the Humber, that would be £5,372. While in the East Midlands, you’d pay £3,280 less than London prices, with an average bill of £4,603 – with Wales similarly low, with an average cost of £4,696.
And you can drill it down even further, by comparing the cost in towns and cities. A cremation in Bradford, West Yorkshire, cost an average of £2,300, while in Woking, Surrey, you’d pay more than double that (£5,364).
And while in Slingsby, North Yorkshire, a burial would set you back an average of £2,621, you wouldn’t get much change from £11,064 in South East London.
But you and your loved ones live where you live. And you can’t do much about funeral costs in your area, as much as you can choose the most basic send-off. So, what can you do? One option is to consider a prepaid funeral plan, to help protect you and your loved ones from these price rises.
What is a prepaid funeral plan?
You can choose and buy a funeral ahead of time, so your family won’t have to pay for the services your funeral plan includes, or deal with arranging the details of the service, once you’re gone. You can usually pay for the plan in one lump sum, or spread the cost over time, in instalments, though this may cost extra.
The idea is that not only can you choose the type of send-off you’d prefer, but you’ll usually pay today’s prices for services carried out in the future. So you can worry less about price rises, and know that the services in the plan are paid for.
Whatever plan you go for, make sure it’s within your budget, and you know exactly what services are included in the plan you buy. The Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) and Citizens Advice offer guidance that might help, and you’ll find plenty of information elsewhere online. Talk to your family about the choices on offer, and tell them the funeral provider and plan you’ve chosen, so they’re aware.
If you’re organising a funeral and you’re not sure if your loved one had a funeral plan in place, check if it’s mentioned in their will. While there’s no central database of all funeral plans, if it was bought from a provider that’s registered with the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), you may also be able to find it by filling in a form on the FPA’s website.
What if you can’t afford to pay for a loved one’s funeral?
You’re not alone. According research by SunLife 3, one in eight families find it difficult to cover the funeral costs of a loved one. The funeral usually has to be paid for before the person who’s responsible for arranging the funeral, called the executor, can use any money left over from the estate of the person who’s died. Though sometimes banks will release money if they’re shown the death certificate and funeral invoice.
But this, of course, depends on whether or not any money or assets were left behind. If the estate of the person who’s died can’t cover the cost of the funeral, and they didn’t have a funeral plan in place, there are ways to get help, if you can’t afford to pay.
If someone dies with no money, family or friends to cover their funeral costs, the local authority has a statutory duty to bury or cremate them. This is called a public health funeral, and it’s a very basic service. A burial will often be in an unmarked grave that may be shared with others.
Here are other ways you can seek financial help and advice, if you’re struggling to pay funeral costs:
- Ask the funeral director if you can spread the payments over months, rather than pay it in one go.
- Check if you’re eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment, if you get certain benefits and live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In Scotland, it’s called the Funeral Support Payment. Though the payment won’t usually cover all of the costs of the funeral, and how much you get depends on your circumstances.
- You may be able to get a Bereavement Support Payment if your husband, wife or civil partner died in the last 21 months and you’re under state pension age.
- Contact a charity or benevolent support society. Some are more specific to the job of the person who’s died, or how they died. More generally, Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth team can offer practical help and support with funeral costs, and Turn2Us is a national charity that provides people in need with financial support. Friends of the Elderly offers grants to older people living on low income that can go towards funeral costs.