Business

Cost of a funeral soars to £3,700 - but what do you get?

Statues of an angel in London's Brompton Cemetery

One in ten people in the UK are struggling to pay for a funeral, according to a report seen by 5 Live Investigates.

Life and pensions group Royal London says the average cost of a funeral in the UK has risen by nearly 4% in the last year to £3,700, while the UK inflation rate has hovered around zero.

It wants policymakers to investigate the causes of rising funeral costs and better government help for people on low incomes.

The Department of Work and Pensions says the average payment from its Social Fund scheme has increased year-on-year.

So what does £3700 buy you? Only the most basic of funerals. Funeral director fees make up the majority of the cost and their prices have gone up by 5% on average.

Added to that are the burial or cremation fees which have also risen. Cremations now cost £683 on average and burial fees £1,645.

But if you want flowers, a reception or a headstone then the average cost of all these extras is £2,323, bringing the total cost close to £6,000.

According to the Royal London report, to be published on 5 October, people are spending less on these items than a year ago, so it seems people are looking for ways of bringing the overall cost down.

When Caroline Barnett's former partner William died from cancer, the family decided to organise the whole funeral themselves. Caroline from Windsor is a humanist who conducts funerals and other ceremonies. But she says the rising cost was an important factor in their decision.

Image copyright Caroline Barnett
Image caption Caroline Barnett and family organised the woodland funeral of her former partner William themselves

The family went on to the internet to learn how to shroud the body, picked flowers from the garden and hired a camper van to take him to a woodland burial site. It cost them around £1,900.

"William said he wanted something eco and something cheap because he wanted to spend his money on a party before he died, which we did," she said.

"You have to be quite tough to do this, but we felt it was so important to be real about it.

"The cost of funerals is rising very fast. I think we have a feeling in this culture that the more you pay the more you respect the person who's died. I don't get this at all."

There are big differences in the cost of a funeral depending on where you live, according to Royal London.


UK funeral costs

Image copyright Getty Images

Most expensive

Beckenham £5,372

Southgate £5,161

Wandsworth £5,076

Cheapest

Belfast £3,008

Amersham £3,102

Yeovil £3,152


The most expensive place in the UK is Beckenham in London, where the cost of a burial is £7,216 and a cremation £3,529. The cheapest place is Belfast, where you'll pay about £3,000 for either.

Lytham St Annes in Lancashire had the sharpest rise in funeral costs - up 10%.

There is also evidence of the importance for people to shop around - with large differences in price between funeral directors in the same area.

In Wrexham, North Wales, one funeral director charged £3,157 compared to another whose price was £990 - a difference of more than £2,000.

The report also reveals how rising costs are causing real hardship for people on low incomes. It says around one-in-ten people struggle to pay for a funeral and the amount they owe has risen to an average debt of £1,318.

However, the overall amount owed to the funeral industry is down, possibly because people are becoming more savvy about price. For example, the amount people spend on a coffin dropped by more than £120.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The National Association of Funeral Directors says the price of a funeral can vary due to the services offered and local factors

Lauren O'Connell was left several thousand pounds in debt after organising her father's funeral when he died suddenly.

She says the funeral cost £4,500 despite choosing the cheapest coffin, and the price didn't include extras such as flowers and a reception.

Regulars at her father's local pub helped to pay for the deposit, but Lauren, who is on a low income, was left struggling to pay the rest of the bill. The cost was eventually met by a relative when she sold her house.

"The debt was a huge worry. I was getting phone calls from the funeral director who was a very nice man, but it's business to him at the end of the day," she said.

"My concern is for people who don't have a support network around them. What options are there for people who literally have nothing?"


Top three places with the biggest difference in funeral director costs

Wrexham: Highest £3,157, lowest £990 - difference £2,167

Inverness: Highest £3000, lowest £1029 - difference £1,971

Havant: Highest £3122, lowest £1,295 - difference £1,827


People on low incomes can apply to the government's Social Fund Funeral Payment to help meet the cost of a funeral.

Royal London say the fund paid out £1,375 on average last year - a rise of 2% - but only a third of the cost of the average funeral.

About 60% of people who applied last year received some help.

The Department for Work and Pensions says 32,000 people received payments last year at a cost of £44m, and the average payment has increased year-on-year.

Report author Simon Cox said: "The rising cost of an average UK funeral is very concerning; it's outstripped inflation considerably for many years - almost in line with house price rises - which as we know continue to rise rapidly as demand outstrips supply.

"Our study shows people are striving to meet funeral price hikes, which they have little control over. Given the stressful situation, shopping around for a funeral is often not an option. Instead people are coping by cutting back on non-essentials if possible, and reconsidering how loved ones are buried.

"The UK funeral system still displays fundamental failings, which we reported last year. Vulnerable bereaved people are taking on increased debt; and we predict this problem will worsen if steps are not taken to tackle the many, persistent causes driving up the cost of funerals."

The National Association of Funeral Directors welcomed the report, which it said "highlights that the rising cost of a funeral can be attributed to many factors including the increasing scarcity of burial plots and fast-rising local authority fees for burials and cremations".

And it added: "Funeral firms offer a range of prices based upon different services offered and in response to local competition. This enables families to select a funeral director that is right for them. However, cost is not the only important factor.

"The NAFD advises people to select a funeral firm that has signed up to a strict code of practice and independent redress scheme such as our own, to ensure that they and their loved one will be properly and professionally cared for. "

Hear the full report on 5 live Investigates on BBC 5 live on Sunday 4 October 2015 at 11:00 BST. Or download the programme podcast.

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