There could also be a clampdown in the industry on excessive pricing
Thursday 27 Jun 2019 Author: Laura Suter

It’s getting more expensive to die. The cost of having a burial in the most expensive part of the UK (unsurprisingly in London) has hit almost £12,000, while the average cost across the UK is just shy of £4,000.

The figures from Royal London show that Kensal Green, in north-west London, is the most expensive place to have a funeral, with an average cost of £7,489. In comparison, Belfast in Northern Ireland is the cheapest place to die, with an average funeral cost of just shy of
£3,000. The costs include collection/care of the deceased, a basic coffin, a hearse, and a simple service.

But funeral costs have been rising far higher than incomes in recent years, with the most recent figures showing a 6% increase in costs between 2017 and 2018. It means more people are taking on debt to help pay – Royal London estimates one in 10 took on debt to pay for a funeral, with the average debt being £1,744.

DIG-IT-YOURSELF

It also means a rising number have decided to take the DIY approach. You can take on many of the tasks that a funeral director usually carries out, often for minimal hassle – and for a large cost saving.

It will surprise many that you can actually bury a body in your back garden or any private land (subject to some conditions), you don’t need to pay for a plot and a formal service. You can also cut out the cost of transporting the body, and do it in your own car or a taxi.

Other things that are easy and quick to arrange yourself are posting death notices in newspapers, and ordering a coffin or casket. While this route isn’t for everyone, some people do a DIY funeral not to save costs but also to make the funeral more personal. You can also choose a 50:50 approach, where you take on some tasks to cut costs and the funeral director does others.

Another option is the low-cost ‘direct cremation’ approach, which typically costs around £1,000 and includes transporting the body, a private committal and return of the ashes in an urn. The family can then scatter the ashes at a significant place for them.

GOVERNMENT HELP IS AVAILABLE

People on certain benefits can claim Government help for paying for funerals, which will then be reclaimed from any money you receive from the deceased’s estate.

The amount varies but will help to cover the costs of burial or cremation fees, transport and death certifications, as well as up to £700 for flowers, the coffin and funeral director’s fees. The money will either go into your bank account directly or to the funeral director.

If your spouse or civil partner dies you could get Bereavement Support Payment from the Government. To be eligible you must be under state pension age, and it’s based on the National Insurance contributions your partner made.

There are two rates: the higher of a £3,500 lump sum and £350 monthly payments for 18 months is for those eligible for child benefit. Otherwise you get the lower rate of £2,500 and £100 a month payments for 18 months. You must claim within three months of the death to get the full amount. More details can be found here.

GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN

The rising cost of funerals has not escaped the eye of the Government, with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launching an investigation into the space, which has often been referred to as a ‘Wild West’ market.

Funeral directors have been criticised for being opaque on their fees, making it hard for customers to compare between providers, while others have said they exploit people at an emotional and vulnerable time.

Last month the CMA launched a full market investigation into the space, aiming to look at the reluctance of firms to publish clear prices, the difficulty for  new crematoria firms to enter the market and the high year-on-year price rises across the funerals space.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, says: ‘People mourning the loss of a loved one are extremely vulnerable and at risk of being exploited. We need to make sure that they are protected at such an emotional time, and we’re very concerned about the substantial increases in funeral prices over the past decade.’

Earlier this month the Financial Conduct Authority announced it would regulate the pre-paid funeral plans market, after finding that customers were losing out. Research last year found customers were subject to high-pressure selling and misleading sales tactics. It is now consulting on what the final rules will be.

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