UK

Cremation costs vary by hundreds of pounds across UK

Funeral Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The cost of a cremation has risen above the rate of inflation since 2015

Families in parts of the UK are paying hundreds of pounds more to cremate loved ones than others, figures show.

Cremation costs at council-run sites range from £392 to £960 and have risen by nearly a fifth since 2015.

Experts said it was likely people in areas where charges were higher would have to pay, as grieving people tended not to shop around for a cheaper area.

Council fees are mostly reinvested in cemeteries and crematoria, according to the Local Government Association.

The BBC analysed figures for adult cremations, collected by charity The Cremation Society, and obtained the latest data for 183 council-run crematoria in the UK and Channel Islands for the past five years.

Costs had risen in two thirds of areas since 2018 and, adjusting for inflation, prices were up by 11% on average since 2015.

Between 2010 and 2015 cremation prices rose by a third across 170 local councils.

The figures showed the cremation fee plus a medical referee's fee and any environmental surcharge. This represented the minimum cost charged by local authorities for services from 15 to 45 minutes but did not include additional funeral expenses.

'It's robbery'

Image caption Karen Hitchman said she tried to shop around for a good deal, but still had to find financial help to cover funeral costs

Karen Hitchman, 56, from Mossley in Greater Manchester, said when her parents died within six weeks of each other she had no savings to pay for their funerals.

"I actually felt suicidal, that's how depressed I got with it all and the more people I asked for help, the more I got turned away," she said.

Ms Hitchman eventually received help from the government and charities but said funeral costs in general were too high for those already struggling to make ends meet.

"Obviously when you're in a state of shock and you're dealing with a funeral, it's the last thing you think of," she said.

"Afterwards when you sit down and think about it, it [is] extortionate.

"It's robbery, you can't afford to live, you can't afford to die," she said.

The most expensive crematoria

CrematoriumLatest price as of April-August 2019
Milton Keynes£960.00
Barrow-in-Furness£959.00
Pontefract£937.00
Wakefield£937.00
Bath£934.00
Inverness£931.00
Plymouth (Efford)£915.00
Plymouth (Weston Mill)£915.00
Cheltenham£915.00
Peterborough£913.00
Note: Data for council-owned and operated crematoria only
Source: BBC research

The most expensive council-owned crematorium was in Milton Keynes, which currently charges £960 as a basic fee.

However, private sector cremations could cost more, according to the Cremation Society, with a top price of £1,070.

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Council said it set its prices to ensure the recovery of the costs in delivering the service.

"The charges cover the maintenance costs of the crematorium and 10 cemeteries across Milton Keynes," he said.

According to the council this ensured the cremators were maintained "at the standards required to achieve the most effective and efficient processes".

'Death rate will rise'

Barrow Borough Council said up to 2015 its fees were "lower than many other crematoria".

"With the reduction in government funding the borough council increased all fees in comparison with our neighbouring authorities," it said.

Glynn Humphries, from Wakefield Council, said it had set its fees to cover the costs of replacing its cremators in recent years.

"It is important that we are equipped to meet future demand, as the death rate is likely to rise," he added.

Belfast currently has the lowest cost for cremation at £364.

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said its last detailed review of cremation costs was undertaken "some years ago" but current prices were "subject to change".

Average cost of public cremations

The (median) basic cremation charge across 183 crematoria

Source: Cremation Society/BBC Research

Julie Dunk, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said while a cremation "can seem quite expensive" when broken down, the costs made sense.

"There's quite a lot involved when it comes to cremation, not just the actual process itself but all the infrastructure around it," she said.

"So it may be that a crematorium has had to invest quite heavily in new equipment to meet environmental standards or to bring the chapels up to a decent level."

'Right thing'

She added many public crematoria were now "ageing buildings" that required constant maintenance from local authorities running them.

Commenting on the difference across the country in price, the Good Funeral Guide's Fran Hall said families in high cost areas would often just pay what was asked.

"It's very unlikely that people will ring three different crematoria to find the cheapest one to take grandma to when it's time for her funeral, that just doesn't happen," she said.

She said there was a "subliminal assumption" shopping around for the cheapest deal meant families were not "doing the right thing" for the person who died.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, from the Local Government Association, said council fees generally accounted for "less than a quarter" of the overall cost of a cremation.

"There is no restriction on how surplus revenue is used but it is mostly reinvested in cemetery and crematoria infrastructure, grounds maintenance, staff and energy costs to address demand and provide the services bereaved families want."

In March the Competition and Markets Authority said it would be launching an investigation into the funerals sector.

It said "problems" with the market had led to above inflation price rises "for well over a decade" in both the funeral and crematoria services.

"The scale of these price rises does not currently appear to be justified by cost increases or quality improvements," a spokesman said.

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