/ Money

Are UK funeral prices too high?

The Competition and Markets Authority is carrying out a study into the funerals market to find out if consumers are getting a good deal. Can you help with this research by sharing your experiences?

When you’re faced with bereavement, we know that money can be the last thing you’ll want to think about. But with the average cost of a funeral approaching £3,800, it’s an area that’s rightly coming under scrutiny.

Multiple expenses

The BBC reports that many funeral plans do not cover costs such as embalming, limousines, the services itself, a wake, burial plots or memorial stones.

As a result of this, some families who may have expected these items to be included are left with additional, unexpected expenditure at such a difficult time.

With the potential for expenses to mount up, it’s essential that clearer information is given on the prices and services available to families.

Your views for the CMA

The CMA has stated that its market study will focus on two core areas in connection with the supply of funerals:

  • – how competition between funeral directors works and transparency issues in the provision of funerals
  • – how competition works in the crematoria segment of the industry

Comments are being welcomed on the issues, so we want to share our community’s experiences with the CMA. This will help give a clear view of the challenges being faced by vulnerable people at the most difficult of times.

Have you ever felt like the process of paying for a funeral wasn’t transparent about how much things would cost, or what you were paying for? Were intermediaries, such as funeral directors, helpful throughout the process or a hinderance?

We’d particularly want to know if you felt you were subject to pressure selling, or if you had unexpected costs that you’d previously believed were to be covered by pre-paid plans.

As we know this can be a sensitive area, you’re welcome to email us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk if you’d prefer not to comment publicly.

Comments

It would be useful if someone broke down all the elements of a basic funeral – caring for the body, coffin, hire of car(s) and people, service venue, payment of officiator, disposal of bod for example – and put a cost on each part. It might then be clearer whether any bit is susceptible to profiteering.

A bit like private medical care, just where does all the money go and who profits most? And repairing your car, how are the costs justified. Don’t mention legal action….well why not? Which? Legal should be well placed to examine the extortionate costs involved that benefit an elite closed shop.

This is something of a journey into unknown territory for most of us. We are faced with a set of expenses at a time when emotions are raw and, in addition, have no real way of comparing the cost of various items or of shopping around. Funerals are mostly unplanned, and one doesn’t begin to arrange them until the person is actually dead. To do so before is a trifle macabre even if it is obvious that death is imminent.
It is also usual to use a local undertaker, and these are not scattered about like charity shops in the high street, so choice is limited. Again, shopping around among those available is extra work, when the focus is on getting the arrangements sorted and the family contented. We were happy to use a local undertaker who had conducted a previous funeral for us. Actual cost didn’t enter into the discussion except in as far as we specified what we wanted and what we could do without. There were many items that they undertook which were not itemised, but were essential. Collecting the body and keeping it until the funeral, liaising with various authorities for paperwork and arranging funeral time and date with the crematorium. Organising transport for everyone, including the deceased, and, of course directing proceedings on the day of the funeral. They also hired the vicar who conducted the service.

When the invoice arrived a few weeks later, the main essentials were itemised and for us, it was around £3,200 to settle the account. I didn’t question that, nor did I think we had been ripped off. I didn’t need to know the intimate details of the cost of preserving, or the actual processes involved in pre-funeral work. We specified a coffin which was itemised, as was a fee for the chapel of rest and a fee for the funeral itself. From memory, (without looking it up) I think that was all that was listed and perhaps some administrative charges for the paperwork.
So, to sum up, a funeral costs what a funeral costs and one can make it expensive by asking for horse and carriage or a brass band to accompany the cortege, or, inexpensive by doing the minimum necessary to say goodbye. We were very satisfied with what we got. The undertaker has a fleet of cars to maintain, a chapel of rest to upkeep. Various staff and equipment to buy and service, raw materials to supply, a premises to trade from and contacts to liaise with. I don’t think our undertaker was richer than any other business, just making an honest living by serving the community. Thus, I have no gripe or axe to grind here.

I share Vynor’s thoughts on this. I have had to arrange two funerals in the last few years and both had various complexities adding to the costs and making it difficult to make comparisons. The cost of having an entirely new family memorial after the second funeral exceeded the combined cost of both the funerals but fortunately it was possible to meet all the costs from the respective estates. So many of the elements of a funeral are optional making it difficult to judge what a funeral should cost; it is practically impossible to get competitive quotations and there is no room for negotiation [which would be unseemly in any case].

One thing I found difficult to get right was the choice of officiator for non-religious services. In both cases they were ‘found’ by the funeral contractors. One was very good but she was not available on the second occasion when the substitute was very disappointing. He mispronounced names and gave the impression of not having read the text I had prepared before having to read it out in the crematorium chapel. These people have excellent digital music systems that can play virtually any track that has been recorded but it is essential to be very specific about which version is required. The low-fidelity of chapel public address systems and acoustics can spoil the end result, however.

I endorse Vynor’s remarks about the funeral contractors; I have attended a large number of funerals and arranged quite a few as well and have always found the funeral company’s staff very conscientious and diligent and unfailingly supportive. There was just one problem after the first funeral when they failed to get the cemetery company – despite correspondence and promises – to restore the grave and replace the original headstone so that by the time of the second funeral two years later the pieces were still lying around in long grass away from the grave. That was why the family chose to have a whole new memorial installed by monumental masons. The cost of floral tributes is surprisingly high for doing anything decent.

Ron Munro says:
9 June 2018

I have chosen and arranged to forego all pomp and ceremony by arranging a ‘direct’ funeral at considerable less cost and at a fixed price purchased some years ago. My benefactors will benefit from my choice.

Dont get me started on this –but I will , incensed- angry,upset, annoyed, etc etc. I hate those TV profit from you dying scaremongers, those letters through the letter box -over 50 ?? . I have already 4 years ago had a post removed from TP because the same type of organisation would not leave me alone . This PROVED to me that businesses RUN TP as all they need to do is complain and my posts (and others ) are removed . Pay leeches who ,in my view prey on the old , infirm, sick people -NEVER in this world , sitting in their offices smoking cigars and drinking champagne , catch ,em early so more profit . MY funeral -cardboard box dumped into the sea by rowing boat , get money out of that if you can, I wont mind -why -because I will be DEAD ! IF Which censors and removes my post then I will know who runs Which the DMA or any other alias. Very angry from —-a seaside village cottage

I’m not sure about undertakers sitting round sipping cigars and smoking champagne, but I would just like to see an evaluation of the costs involved. Then I’ll better understand whether they seem sensible.

There is already enough pollution in the sea, duncan – please don’t add to it with cardboard but, in the nicest possible way, it makes sense for you to join the food chain. Not an option for most of us. Should we add to greenhouse gases? I’d like to be buried (with a mobile, just in case), marked by flowers, and hope I’ll be missed just a little for a short while. But then life must go on.

Perhaps broadband will have reached the afterlife area(s) by then and we’ll be able to keep in touch

I like that last paragraph malcolm —calmed me down a bit -thanks.

I share Duncan’s concerns about the marketing behaviour of the funeral plan industry, but preying on people’s fears over meeting the costs of a funeral goes back to the nineteenth century when people were signed up to insurance policies for a penny a week which rarely delivered as much as they promised.

The reality is that a significant proportion of the population does not have enough in savings and available money to meet the cost of an average, no-frills, funeral so it falls on the rest of the family, which might also be short of funds at the particular time. I think the funeral trade should put some work in to offering a dignified but basic provision, but the problem is that their elements might be a minor part of the total expense as various disbursements and fees have to be met and these are outside the funeral company’s control. If there is a long distance to the cemetery or crematorium, or if the body has to be collected from a distant hospital following a post mortem examination [an increasing number of deaths involve the Coroner these days], or if there are any special religious observances, these can all add to the costs before you even get on to the ‘optional extras’ like additional limousines, flowers, order of service booklets, celebrant, organist, bell-ringers, interment of ashes, notices in newspapers, entries in the book of remembrance, and gravestone [or memorial for cremated remains], to name just a few. Most people attending a funeral have considerable personal expenses for travel, accommodation, attire, floral tributes or charity donation, and so on, so the total costs can become very high. It is easy to understand why insurance polices have been devised to meet the costs and why people take comfort from having a funeral plan in place. There needs to be much more transparency of exactly what it covers. I have not researched these policies but I presume that, like all life insurance, the sooner one starts the lower the lump sum or annual cost for an equivalent provision. I should think someone who has recently retired and started to think about this should probably look around the market for a plan that covers a £7,500 – £10,000 funeral at today’s values and hope that the rate of inflation for funerals is the same as, or lower than, the household expenditure level, but history demonstrates that is unlikely to be the case.

Carol Leslie says:
10 June 2018

I’m thinking of leaving my body to medical research however, you aren’t 100% definitely needed so it can then cost you a funeral. It’s a great worry to me that my children will be left with a huge bill, that they may not be able to pay. I have said I want the cheapest funeral there is or I will come back and haunt them.

Cremation Carol -no flowers- no expensive casket -no burial- no expensive limousines and if you are poor the local council will have to bury you or contribute to your burial . When you are dead you are -DEAD in the carnal sense . Dont listen to those “graveside vultures ” – £2000- £3000- £100,000 – tell them to get on Norman Tebbit,s bike. I just buried a dead starling in the rubbish bin the starling didn’t mind AND you will be ECO not taking up valuable ground or having a stonemason use up electricity carving you a grave stone and saving the trees in paperwork. You dont need a gravestone to remind you of your loved one –its in your head already . Get your will to put it in legal writing.

While the deceased can specify their wishes, and add directions as an annexe to their Will, ultimately the decisions will be made by the next of kin or the executor and it is very hard to get people to dispense with the conventions of a decent and dignified funeral. I am not sure whether the funeral trade are willing to cooperate in a completely stripped-back form of disposal – even burials at sea require official permissions and there are restrictions on permitted locations; seaside councils don’t want bodies coming in on the next tide. Anything out of the ordinary involves various practical arrangements which will inevitably require some external assistance, and therefore costs and a possible refusal to oblige. Even burying someone in their garden is not recommended as it would need to be declared during a future house sale. Even the simplest, most basic funeral will attract some fees and a plot in a cemetery costs a lot of money, as do the woodland burial grounds now increasingly popular. Most cemeteries insist on some form of grave marker and cover over the grave even if a headstone is not required – they are, after all, commercial companies who have one eye on future sales and wish to present an attractive site. I suspect that a simple cremation is the most economical arrangement but even then there are additional fees for the medical referees who are required to certify the death [because the body will be destroyed and therefore not available for further examination in the event of an official inquiry]. It is not helpful to the family to make impractical directions so some research into the minimum that is realistically possible should be done in the first instance before adding to people’s grief by giving rise to conflicting sympathies or emotions.

Although the local authority will undertake a funeral as a last resort the criterion is not just a matter of the poverty of the deceased but whether they have any kin who could take responsibility, and the council will explore this diligently to avoid burdening the council taxpayers with unnecessary expense. Funeral contractors will provide a basic funeral in such cases but will still expect to make a profit; perhaps the cost of a statutory funeral should be the benchmark against which all other costs are compared but I doubt if any undertaker or council will disclose it [it would probably be exempted under the confidentiality category in a Freedom of Information request].

Hi Carol – my father-in-law did this. I don’t know if you have read up on this yet, but it might be worth doing some research first. This was about 10 years ago, but we found that the hospital had very little knowledge of the process involved after his death and had problems getting a research establishment to accept his body. Eventually he went to Cambridge Uni I think. After 2 (?) years donated bodies are cremated and the uni holds a joint memorial service for all those bodies used over the year. I didn’t go to it, but my sister-in-law did and said it was very nice.

A friend donated her severely autistic sons brain to medical research and the rest of his remains were interred in the local cemetery following a normal funeral with family and friends.

My late brother in Vancouver decided on a Direct Funeral in view of the long distance for his siblings to travel. His close family arranged a memorial ceremony on the beach the following summer and scattered his ashes in the sea. He spent 12 years post WW2 in the Royal Navy travelling the globe and so they felt it appropriate to return him to the sea off the coast of beautiful Vancouver, the place he loved most of all, following his discharge.

Funerals are essentially for nearest and dearest and for those left behind who will inevitably experience a grieving period according to their relationship and their closeness to the deceased, so it may be advisable to consider them when making arrangments for your own passing.

No-one has yet been able to say with any assurances exactly what happens to ones consciousness following the death of form, but strange unexplicable things have been recorded by many people present at the passing of a loved one.

I have been looking at funeral contractors’ websites and in most cases the prices are either not revealed or are well-concealed. Some firms offer a basic package at around £2,000 plus external fees and charges.

One company in Norwich offers ‘direct cremation’. This is one “which takes place without a funeral ceremony. No family attend, whether through personal choice or financial preference.” The firm uses a local crematorium “at a time when the fees are most reasonable”. The charges are as follows –

Funeral director’s fee: £795.00
Cremation fee: £499.00
If there is no post-mortem, there are doctors’ fees of £164.00.

There are no other charges added to the above: it includes the coffin, collection and care of the deceased, and full transportation and staff costs. So even a basic ‘disposal’ costs around £1,500. Presumably the cremated remains are available for collection from the company a few days later, probably in a large jar with a screw lid.

Another company, which is part of the Dignity group, offers a simple funeral for £1,995 + third party costs, “without compromising on the quality of the service that is delivered”.

So perhaps everyone should be encouraged, if possible, to squirrel away about £3,000 [not as part of a contractual funeral plan] which their next of kin or executor can have immediate access to at the time of their decease. If the relatives want any frills and extras then they might have to pay for them themselves!

This convo is beginning to look like a capitalist view on dying , I would have liked the general public to be involved with this convo . Do any of you realise the latest figures on poverty in this country –rising all the time-starvation-homelessness-dumpster diving for food outside supermarkets – the extreme rise in Food-Banks due to withdrawal of Welfare ?? I know you dont want to talk about it but I do as it certainly is related to money grabbing funeral parlours . So tell me sink estate > living on cut rate welfare because of the UK.s £77.5 Billion debt -bigger than other countries except the USA and the IMF loves debt ! just told Russia -you have measly low debt get more into debt . For those not being told here I will – Public Health Funeral -aka Pauper,s Funeral >Local Authorities have a Legal Duty to bury you . I will bet if Which did another convo involving the public on this issue many here would be complaining about the number of posts they dont like . USA costs on a standard funeral approx – $ 7650

For those on benefits click on https://www.gov.uk/funeral-payments dont ignore this as its aimed at the poor in society.

Thanks, Duncan for the great link. That could be really helpful for some people concerned about the costs of funerals. We’re going to add it to the Useful Links section, underneath the Convo.

duncan, I wonder how many know of this payment, or would be directed to it when the unhappy circumstance arises.

I do not automatically assume that funeral directors make a fortune out of people at a vulnerable time, but would like to simply see the real costs involved in dealing with a deceased to see that what we pay is justified.

Is a state funeral free? I’d quite like one.

I would like one too malcolm –if its the taxpayers paying for it–as usual .

When I have registered deaths the registrar has informed me about the availability of funeral payment assistance for those arranging funerals who are in receipt of certain state benefits. It is a useful contribution towards the expenses. It would only apply in full if the deceased had no estate and the person arranging the funeral was on benefits.

In criticising the cost of a funeral I feel there is an obligation to suggest how it could be provided at lower cost or how any subsidy could be provided and paid for.

There is also bereavement assistance. You may be able to get a £2,000 Bereavement Payment if your spouse or civil partner died before 6 April 2017. This is a one-off, tax-free, lump-sum payment. If your spouse or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017 you may be eligible for Bereavement Support Payment instead. See –
https://www.gov.uk/bereavement-payment

The curious aspect of funerals is that it is something that we all know is coming but which we are reluctant to plan and make financial provision for. I gather that only 300,000 people have entered into a funeral plan. There could be many reasons for that low number, including a general belief that they do not represent good value for money, that they are not all they are cracked up to be and leave many costs uncovered, and that people are turned off by the somewhat desperate marketing associated with them. Of course, the vast majority of people probably believe they will have sufficient realisable resources available in the event of their death not to require any forward planning and provision.

I would hope that the CMA will provide answers to Malcolm’s points about the true costs of the elements of a funeral.

I should have mentioned earlier that when registering a death the Registrar hands over a very comprehensive guide [by the DWP I think] to all the things that the people responsible need to do or be aware of including all the sources of financial and practical assistance. Among other things it is a one-stop process for notifying a whole range of national and local government agencies of the death. I believe the system is more supportive than people expect it to be or give it credit for.

It is necessary to make an appointment for registering a death as it is quite an administrative process and several copies of the death certificate might be required. The person registering is asked to bring certain documents like the deceased’s passport, concessionary travel pass, NI number, NHS registraton details etc so these can all be dealt with. I was a little surprised to watch the Registrar immediately cut a corner off the passport but that is a necessary protection against fraudulent use. Clearly, the internet has enabled a lot of effort to be put into stopping pension and benefit over-payments, cancelling voter registrations, and preventing the misuse of travel passes as well as locking together all the personal interfaces with the state.

Poverty is a serious implication in respect of funeral costs, but it has many causes from a lack of income to an excess of expenditure. A public health funeral is indeed a statutory duty of the relevant local authority as a last resort where the deceased has left no money or savings sufficient to pay for a funeral and – importantly – has no family or other responsible person or organisation able to meet the costs of a funeral. As I mentioned previously, the council will diligently explore this option before providing a funeral at public expense.

Unfortunately I am not of sufficiently high rank, status or grandeur to qualify for a state funeral so will have to make my own provision, and I happen to think that is everyone’s civic duty. As people enter middle age and their costs of living start to decline or their disposable income starts to rise I feel it is incumbent on them to put away a little every month to build up a fund that will pay for a reasonable funeral [around £3,000 at today’s prices]. Funeral costs can, of course, arise from all manner of circumstances for which life assurance or term insurance policies are available, the latter being quite economical because they only pay out in the event of death. Many people in work have occupational pension schemes which include a lump sum payment in the event of death.

“Poverty” is another one of those subjects where it is too easy to generalise. My concern is that there should be a decent provision for people who die in old age with no family or other support and have been living in hardship on nothing but their state pension and the relevant other benefits. Like in the nineteenth century, the ‘deterrent’ principle still applies and the state system tries to make sure that people will not deliberately put themselves in a position where the state has to provide their funeral. While a public health funeral is a perfectly respectable event it is not a situation that is generally desired and it is characterised by the absence from the ceremony of anyone other than the undertaker’s staff and a representative or two of the local authority.

There is a lot of interesting information about public health funerals in the following report by the Local Government Association, although the statistical data is now about eight years old –
https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/public-health-funerals-20-dca.pdf

It would appear that there are only around 2,000 to 2,500 such funerals each year and that the number remains fairly constant – although the lack of more recent data makes that an unreliable deduction.