Royal London recently released their latest research on UK funeral costs, showing average costs at an all-time high of £3,785 and an average debt of £1,990 taken on by those who have to borrow.
This is incredibly worrying, but is there an alternative?
Whenever Down to Earth discusses funerals in the media, someone will inevitably say how they avoided the funeral industry altogether and did it themselves. Sometimes evangelically proposing a movement for everyone to do the same. But how feasible is this?
‘We buried mum in the garden’
Burying on private land is legal, but there are certain rules that must be followed regarding paperwork, distance to types of water and the depth of the grave. You must have consent from the owner of the freehold of the land and burial of a body must not be prohibited in the land title deeds.
Fine if you own your garden, but renters may find that such a request puts a strain on even the warmest relationship with a landlord! And if you’re living in a block of flats, this isn’t the option for you.
Most of us haven’t dug a grave before, and this can be hard work. Not one for those in poor physical health or with physical disabilities. The alternative is to hire a mechanical digger, but this will add cost and a fair bit of organisation.
Bear in mind also whether you might want to move in the future.
‘We took dad in our own van to the crematorium’
If you are organising a cremation, you don’t need to go through a funeral director, but you do need to deal with some practicalities and paperwork.
Care of the body is the first consideration. If the deceased died in hospital, there may be morgue facilities that can keep the body cool until you’re ready for the cremation. Mortuary staff may be happy to help you wash the body and put them in a coffin, but they are not obliged to do so. Cleaning up bodily fluids and lifting a body into a coffin is messy and heavy work. Not a job for the faint hearted, or without a team of willing volunteers to help.
If someone died at home, care can be even more difficult. Keeping decomposition at bay will be challenging. You will need to wait for the coffin to arrive, and complete required paperwork to secure a crematorium slot. If the death was expected, perhaps you can do some of this ahead of time, but this won’t be the case if a loved one dies unexpectedly.
You’ll need to think about transport too. Taxi drivers willing to drive a body to the crematorium are likely to be in short supply.
We do not want to deter anyone from doing some or all parts of the funeral themselves, and nobody should be held to ransom by the funeral industry. Providing more support for those wanting to do it themselves is part of the solution, but those who would prefer to use a funeral director should not be blamed for doing so. Not everyone has access to a garden, a vehicle or a cool room, or has the physical or mental capacity to organise a funeral themselves in the midst of grief.
Royal London found that the amount spent on a funeral varies very little between income groups, so those on the lowest incomes are impacted more than those on higher incomes. What really needs to change is the cost of a funeral, and the financial support available for those who need it most; the DWP’s Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payment is inadequate as it only covers 39% of the cost of a simple funeral. The government has an opportunity to cap funeral expenses in response to the Competitions and Markets Authority’s funerals market investigation, and increase the value of the Funeral Expenses Payment at the next budget; now more than ever is the time for it to act.