/ Health, Money

The rising risk of funeral costs

Funeral director

For people on low incomes, the Social Fund provided by the government can be a lifeline. It pays for budgeting loans for people in debt, maternity grants, and cold weather and winter fuel payments.

But in recent years, it has come under growing criticism for failing to adequately help people meet the cost of a basic funeral, as the disparity between increasing funeral costs continues to outstrip payments from the scheme.

Stark figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that only 54% of the 66,000 applications made last year were successful in receiving a funeral payment from the Fund. But most worrying was that the average payment was just £1,225, which would meet just 35% of the cost of a basic funeral, leaving a shortfall of more than £2,000.

Cost of funeral director is the highest cost

The scheme also includes a cap of £700 towards funeral directors’ costs – generally the most expensive element – that has remained unchanged since 2003. Yet funeral costs have increased 80% over the same period.

In November 2012, Citizens Advice Bureau published a report replete with examples of people on low incomes falling into thousands of pounds of debt when faced with arranging a funeral. The report also highlighted other problems, such as a lack of information about funeral payments, speed of processing the payments and confusion around who is eligible for help from the Fund.

With funeral costs increasing by 7% annually – more than double the rate of inflation – there’s a real risk that future generations could be condemned to years of living with funeral poverty.


Here is a link to the CAB research which provides information on which the discussion is based:

I have a great respect for CAB and it is good to see some proper research into events which sooner or later will affect all of us. I do agree with most of the report particularly a standardised no frills low cost option. This would need to made a well-known fact rather than leaving the bereaved in the hands of people interested in up-selling to distressed relatives.

However if people wish for grander funerals that is entirely up to them and State subsidy should not be seen as a additional funds for a grander funeral. When looking at costs last year for my father I was much taken with this service where the total cost was just around £1200.

A memorial service or event , and a scattering of ashes can be arranged at a convenient later time and of course would be separate from the State aid.

Brian Wootton says:
10 November 2013

I can’t help thinking this is being tackled from the wrong direction. It wouldn’t cost much for our gardener to dig a hole in the back garden and some-one helping my wife to chuck me in. It wouldn’t cost a lot more to slide me into the sea off a boat, as in WWII. No doubt it’s all against the law!

Also I also think Funeral Services in general should be examined pretty closely, it’s strikes me that the people involved could be on ‘a nice little earner’.

Carole Ellis says:
10 November 2013

Yes I think something should be done perhaps there is room for a different type of funeral business as in more competitive. I for one think it is a disgrace. I would be quite happy in a cardboard box, I’m only going to be cremated, so what’s the point in buying an expensive coffin? (oh and I often wonder, do they actually burn that extortionately priced solid wood coffin or do they get you out first?) Relative’s of the deceased are on a bit of a guilt trip when arranging a funeral and want only the best. But it makes NO difference to the person who has died! Why can’t we be buried in the back garden or cremated without all the rigmarole. By the time the funeral comes around, usually at least 2 weeks, our spirits have moved on anyway.

Carole, cardboard printed with cheery messages could be good. The above coffin is oak veneered; I reckon I could make one of those for a third the price from oak-veneered mdf, let alone chipboard. Re-usable coffins (rent-a-box)? Why not?
This is not meant to sound irreverent.

raymond carlson says:
14 November 2013

This reminds me of a song from waay back . I;V GOT A NEVER ENDING JOB FOR YOU .

We need to know first of all why funeral costs have outstripped inflation.
Looking online, one website shows a simple funeral costs around £1200 + crematorium and doctor’s cost (no service), a basic funeral with these costs included around £1900, and a standard funeral with 2 vehicles £2600. Considerably less than the price shown in the introduction. If these figures are right, then the shortfall is around £700 for a basic funeral. Coffins look expensive (basic £350 – 400).
A difficult time when you probably want to do as little as possible other than hand it over to someone to organise it for you. Not a time to be shopping around, is it – you need trust in the funeral directors. Perhaps once again if the general breakdown of costs is shown we would have a better understanding of what should be paid.

Rachel says:
10 November 2013

The key would obviously be to oblige undertakers to make all customers aware of a standardised low cost option and to itemise the costs of all additional services. And to reduce the risk of price-fixing it might well be necessary to cap the price of the basic package. Notwithstanding, it’s important that everyone be aware of the duty on the local authority or hospital where the person died to provide a public health aka pauper’s funeral. There should never be a need for someone on a low income to go into debt in order to bury a loved one.

This was a statement on the website I looked at:
“The Funeral Director Industry associations require their members to offer a basic funeral (otherwise known as Simple Funeral or Direct Funeral) with a given specification as part of their code of practice. However it has been officially reported in a recent Which? survey, that in spite of this requirement, many choose not to offer this option, unless the client specifically asks for it.”
Perhaps it should be mandatory that this package is always offered.

E. C. E. says:
26 October 2014

I wholeheartedly agree, that when funeral untertakers hand out their information packs to inquiring customers the choice of a direct or basic funeral should be included.

With all the goodwill in the world there will always be people who want to put on a funeral they cannot afford, as will there be people who have no money either from the estate or from their own resources.

On that basis I find it very hard to see this a major scandal or something that can ever be eradicated by legislation or anything else. This Mirror article shows the extent of pauper graves:

Given the budgets of these major conurbations it is not a huge cost or problem.

So far posters here have discovered at the bottom of the scale are the Local Authority provision, followed up by cremation service for £1200. I am a little disappointed now that the CAB piece was not as encompassing as it could have been. However a lot of organisations push a particular point of view by only looking at the “favourable” parts.

Lastly there needs to be perhaps a more logical education about the death process. This Which? article is good as far as it goes:
but in truth is fairly lightweight. There is Which? book ” What To Do When Someone Dies” for £10.99 . Regrettably not an e-book so one can get advice immediately.

I am happy to buy a second hand car but a second hand coffin is a step too far for me. I do not wish to share my coffin with anybody else, even if we are not in it at the same time. In disaster zones the dead are given the dignity of their own plain wooden coffin. I wish to be given the same. Although from the funerals I have attended, a shiny varnished, golden handled coffin, seems to be the popular choice. A bit gaudy to say the least. Where can I buy a plain wooden one. eBay or Amazon?

Is the price of a basic funeral equivalent to a months care home fees and if so, perhaps the Government should pay this for all of us as by dying we are saving them such future costs. Care home fees vary by area as do funeral costs. Also, does the cost of living index truly reflect the cost of dying. It does not reflect the true cost of living for us all so why do we expect it to reflect the cosy of dying.

being alone and not in good health ,ithought about this four years ago,i spoke to my funeral directors ( used by my family for many years ) and arranged my own cremation,only the very basic,it cost £2476…..which i paid monthly ,and now i don’t have to worry and i am on a very low fixed income of £656 monthly,rom which everything must be paid ,rent,council tax,elec,gas,phone,tv lic,a small donation to charity ,food and clothes,,,but it was very difficult,some thing must be done to regulate this business …

Joe Cash says:
11 November 2013

Without intending to offend, bluntly speaking we are talking about throwing out rubbish with a little dignity for those left behind. I fail to see why it is not possible to dispose of a body in a dignified manner for £500 let alone the amounts being talked about here. I admit to having no religious beliefs whatsoever. To get rubbish disposal into perspective A dustbin full of rubbish (same volume as a human being) is disposed of by Councils for way under a fiver and a brown bin of garden waste is disposed of fortnightly for £30 for the whole of the gardening season. The cost of a coffin at circa £500 for a basic one is a total rip off. The profit here must be over £400 for a start. Hope this contributes to the debate. As I said I dont intend to be offensive to those who have religious beliefs that require large sums spent on funeral arrangements. It’s just about the cost.

I think we are all entitled to a decent and dignified funeral, according to the proper rites of our faiths or beliefs, but many relatives have a real struggle to meet the costs. Understandably, the funeral trade tries to peddle the idea that an economy coffin would not be seemly. Personally, I should like to be taken away in a recycled wooden or stout cardboard box [the resins used in other materials cause environmental problems during incineration]. A suitable drape could make it look more substantial perhaps. A lot of the costs involved are for fees and disbursements and there seems to be no check on how these have quietly risen over the years outpacing inflation. There ought to be a way of arranging a plain but decorous funeral with basic provisions at around the level of the average payment from the Social Fund [curently £1,225], although this is a touch too parsimonious in today’s world and I believe the Fund should aim to meet something nearer 75% of all applications to a level of, say, £2,000.

I mentioned on another recent Which? Conversation on the costs of dying a very helpful new website set up by the Norfolk & Suffolk Palliative Care Academy that might be of interest to people close to these problems. It gives a lot of useful guidance and information and can be found at –


John, a local funeral director advertises two interesting coffins on their website. One is called ‘return to sender’ and looks like a coffin wrapped in brown paper with a few address labels stuck on it. The labels say ‘return to sender’. The other one is called xray and is a dark coffin with a full length photo of a skeleton on the front and sides. I just thought of you when I saw them. They have several eco friendly cardboard coffins also but prices are not quoted. You could have a plain cardboard one and get all your friends and family to write a farewell or a joke on it and there would not be a need to drape it. A more personalised coffin you could not have.

They also have coffins for sports fans showing a scene from various sports. All are from the contemporary range but again prices are not quoted. Traditional wooden type coffins start at £250 and go up to over £2000 with American style caskets going up to over £7000.

It is kind of you to be thinking of my requirements while browsing among the coffins and caskets on your local undertaker’s website. The ‘X-Ray’ model sounds like a Hallowe’en special. I think the traditional wooden-type would be my choice but I am not giving any directions to my executors and I shall leave the arrangemets to their better judgment on what is appropriate and affordable at the time – I intend to make sure there is enough in the kitty to do something decent but with some thought for the environment. Frankly, they can bung me in a barrel and roll it down the road for all I mind, but I suspect there’ll be a horse-drawn hearse to cart me off to the town cemetery, the nearest crematorium being over thirty miles away. The one thing I hope they avoid is one of those pompous and tasteless American-style caskets with the panelled casing, silk and satin linings, and two-part hinged lids on soft-close suspension rods, that plays the theme tune from The Godfather when it opens.

I have recently had occasion to visit a cemetery in south London which has a large number of Italian and Greek Cypriot graves and I have never seen such lavish memorials with fabulous marble mausoleums surrounded by ever-burning lanterns, all in the best classical taste. These are people who really know how to do it properly with style – and oodles of dosh of course. In contrast we seem to be a nation of cheese-paring skinflints when it comes to sending off our nearest and dearest.

I have not seen or heard your humorous side for some time so I thought I would try and stir it up. I agree with you about the huge American caskets and with the half and half hinged versions I have thoughts of showing my feet instead of my head. Feet at the bottom and a horses head at the top!

I have still to decide if I wish to be cremated or buried and I think my choice of coffin would be based on this. I like the idea of a plain (not shiny or gilded) wooden coffin if I’m buried but if I’m cremated I don’t see the point in having a wooden one. I actually like the idea of a cardboard coffin with a few ‘return to sender’ labels on it and and space for friends and family to write their farewell messages to me. Felt tip pens to be supplied in a range of colours. Now all I have to decide is which method of disposal to select.

I always thought a black horse drawn coffin carriage was special – until it became the choice of many of the soap characters. Now I think a London Routemaster bus is a better idea. It can carry the coffin and quite a few mourners, so no need for a few limousines.

Malcolm, I don’t wish the real vultures to pick my bones clean although there may be a few human ones around when I go.

Joe, your loved ones can give you a basic funeral for very little money but I don’t think popping you into the brown bin is a legal option. Check with your local funeral directors.

I found this on a ‘local’ funeral directors website. It includes all but a service. No mourners allowed so it should suit many of you. You can have your memoriam service in the office or pub at a later date.

Pre-Paid funeral Plan – £1495

A pre-paid plan for those wanting no ceremony or fuss.

Included in the price of this plan are:

Our professional services for arranging the direct cremation
Removal from a hospital mortuary or hospice
Care of the deceased
A simple cremation coffin and name plate for identification
Conveyance to the crematorium in a hearse
A funeral director and staff to carry the coffin into the crematorium
Crematorium’s fee
Doctors’ fees for cremation certificates
Scattering of cremated remains

For those who wish to arrange for their bodies to be simply cremated with no ceremony or fuss, we are able to offer the above pre-paid plan which covers all necessary costs to enable this to happen.

The cost of our plans is inclusive. There are no additional hidden charges.

The tradition in some countries of carrying your dear departed to a nearby open space and letting the vultures deal with them seems a very economical (and if vultures are edible, recyclable) method. Perhaps this could be a sideline for local zoos. I realise this is all in very bad taste.
My wish is to be buried intact in the simplest possible way (who knows what lies beyond – I would not want to enter paradise incomplete, and if I go the other way then there is no point in paying for what would be a free cremation). The money otherwise paid for my funeral would be better spent on a really good party to cheer up my relatives and friends (or maybe they would not need cheering up!) .

Malcolm, what made you decide on burial rather than cremation. I am having great difficulty deciding this. It is not a religious matter just a personal one.

Figgerty, I am torn between religion and non-religion. The big unknown for me is from whence we came! I simply feel that destroying my body with fire is not natural. The natural way to go is intact – there might be a good reason for this! This is getting a bit serious now – I wonder if we get naturally recycled for a future generation.
Perhaps there could be a Which? report on the reliability of reincarnation. A survey would be a good start.

All I can say is that a just God will not turn someone away because their earthly body is not complete. What happened to the victims of the 9/11 bombings where many were vapourised and many more blown into pieces. No God worthy of the name would deny them paradise provided they lived a good and honest life with respect for their fellow man.

Here endeth the sermon for today.

raymond carlson says:
14 November 2013

Who remembers the old banana boxes ( the wooden ones ) I would like one like that with FYFFES banana’s on one side and Jaffa oranges on the other . On the top of it a note saying DON.T CRY FOR ME ,SMILE AND GET ON WITH LIVING ,WITH LUCK I’LL SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE.

Type “funky coffins” in Google and you will no doubt find your dream come true. Also, you could be buried in caskets in the shape of a fish, a hammer or a soft drinks can.

When a cat gets run over in the road the council comes along and takes it away fro free and incinerates it. When I die I have told my wife and friends to put my body in the road for the council to take away so theres no funeral cost. Then we can do away with greedy funeral companies.

Our Council has just given us 5 different bins for waste collection. One is collected weekly and is for, among other items, “meat and bones”. This might be a tidier way of disposing of yourself Bill, and avoids the risk of being run over.