Can I Afford To Die?

funeral costs

A decent send-off may seem like a basic human right wherever you are, but for many families in the UK it’s a luxury that’s fast disappearing out of reach. The funeral industry in Britain is worth £2 billion and growing, largely on the back of price hikes that many of us struggle to pay now - and will have little hope of covering in the future.

How much will my funeral cost?

The average cost of a funeral in the UK is £4,271, and that’s just for the basics. Add in the cost of venue hire, limousines and a memorial service and in some areas prices are at an all-time high of as much as £9,000+. That’s not exactly a figure that most Britons can cover at short notice.

While most of us have experienced hard times since 2008, the average cost of a funeral has increased by almost 68% in the same period. The price for essential funeral items has risen three times the rate of inflation, with an average annual increase of 6.1% since 1980.

We shouldn't count on wages keeping pace with rising funeral costs. In the decade to 2017, wages rose by 20%, whereas the cost of a funeral rose by over 70%. It remains the single most expensive purchase after a house, car and wedding. Alarmingly, a death in the family can be enough to plunge those left behind into serious financial difficulty.

Understanding funeral fees

Between half and two-thirds of the overall cost of a burial in the UK will be the funeral director fees. Most funeral directors will require a 50% deposit of their fee in advance, which could mean a considerable bill to settle during a distressing time.

You don’t have to use a funeral director, but they typically take care of many of the procedural and legal elements involved, such as obtaining death and burial certificates, collection and storage of the body, transport to the cemetery by hearse, and supplying the coffin.

The funeral director will also cover the ‘disbursement’ fees payable to third parties out of their fee.

Discretionary vs Non-discretionary

Because of rising energy costs, and the fact that many crematoria are now run for profit rather than managed by local authorities, non-discretionary funeral fees (the standard costs you have to pay) continue to rise. The average cost of a funeral will be £5,800 by 2020, covering funeral directors, officiating ministers and the basic cost of burial or cremation.

Discretionary fees (to cover services or items that you choose) can add another £2,000 or more to the final bill. These costs cover the services and extras that are chosen by the family, such as catering, flowers, venue and choice of headstone (budget £871 on average). These are often decisions that are made spontaneously and under extreme pressure, but the costs and consequences can linger for years. 

For religious ceremonies under the Church of England, burial fees are payable to the Diocesan Board of Finance and the Parochial Church Council. These costs are also on the rise, not least because available space is at a premium. A church service costs £164 on average, and £295 for burial within a churchyard.

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Where can I get help with funeral costs?

The price of a funeral is already beyond the average person’s ability to pay. The cost rose by more than 112% in the 13 years to 2017 and 1 in 6 of us struggle to meet end of life bills. This is what the sector refers to as ‘funeral poverty’. The average level of funeral debt was £1,318 in 2015. The option for some is to put the cost on a credit card. Where ‘Funeral Services’ is listed on credit card bills, the average total is a staggering £1,114.

There is a Social Fund Funeral Payment available from the government, but this too has been cut, and now only covers around a third of the funeral bill. It is only available to those on qualifying benefits, so not everyone could rely on this as a resource.

One option is direct cremation, with a plain coffin and no service. The ashes are simply returned to the family. These now account for somewhere between 2 and 8 percent of UK cremations but are much more common (32%) in the US.

Can we cope with a rise in funeral costs?

According to the Office of National Statistics, women can expect to live to 82.9 years, and men to 79.2.

However, as a society, we’re getting older. By 2036, almost a quarter of the UK population (23.9%) will be over 65. That will not only put tremendous strain on funeral services that are already stretched, but it will drive up fees in a competitive market. 

The latest data on funeral cost in the UK makes for grim reading, but it’s not an issue that improves when ignored. There is a way to relieve the eventual burden, and it’s as simple as arranging life cover that guarantees a lump sum payout to cover funeral costs and outstanding debts.