For the fifth consecutive year, Royal London has published its findings on how much funerals cost all over the UK. Compiling data from a variety of different sources, including information provided by Your Funeral Choice, the National Funeral Costs Index gives the most comprehensive overview of funeral costs in this country.
In 2018, the headline statistic shows that the overall cost of a funeral has barely changed since last year, with a slight decrease of £27, or 0.7%, from the 2017 figure of £3,784 to £3,757 this year. This is reflected by similar stability in the individual prices of burial funerals (which increased by a mere £10 from £4,257 to £4,267) and cremation burials (which fell by £64 from £3,311 to £3,247), showing that the market appears to have levelled out after decades of significant price increases.
Since Royal London began compiling their reports in 2014, the average costs of a funeral have risen by approximately 6%, which is largely in keeping with the rate of inflation over the same period. That marks a sharp contrast in the decades prior to Royal London’s involvement, when funeral costs would regularly increase at far faster rates than inflation.
Breaking it down
While the overall price of a funeral – whether it be burial or cremation – did not differ too much from last year’s report, certain aspects of the service have changed in price. The biggest contributing factors to increased costs over the past 12 months are the fees associated with the body itself. Burial fees jumped up by 6.1% from £1,847 to £1,960, while cremation fees weren’t far behind. They increased from £755 to £792, a hike of 4.9% from last year. Both increases were far ahead of the general rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at 2.3%.
Those price rises were offset by an attendant reduction in funeral director fees, which helped to stabilise overall funeral costs by and large. The cost of hiring a funeral director to oversee proceedings fell by £101 from 2017’s figure of £2,254 to £2,153, a decrease of 4.5%. Funeral director fees now also comprise a smaller proportion of the overall cost than they did when the studies began five years ago. In 2014, a funeral director accounted for 70% of the total cost of a cremation funeral and 57% of a burial funeral, but today, they comprise just 66% and 50%, respectively.
Here is a further breakdown of the average outlay on other important elements of a funeral, both for burials and cremations:
• Coffin – £980
• Headstone or memorial – £982
• Minister’s fee – £154
• Doctor’s fee – £164
• Obituary – £72
• Order sheets – £60
• Funeral notice – £78
• Flowers – £152
• Venue hire – £360
• Catering – £422
• Additional limousine hire – £305
It is interesting to note that spending on the majority of these components actually fell in 2018, evidencing a willingness on the part of many bereaved parties to “tighten their belts”. Indeed, national spending on all of the above discretionary items, with the exception of flowers, obituaries and additional limousine hire, decreased from last year. In many instances, the decrease exceeded 5%.
Spending beyond their means
Notwithstanding this overall indication of belt tightening, the average amount of debt taken on by those who struggle to pay for a funeral has reached an all-time high of £1,744. The number of people who were forced to go into the red to afford a funeral has actually decreased from 95,000 last year to 75,000 this year, comprising 12% of the overall populace as opposed to 16% in 2017. However, those doing so have found themselves in greater debt than ever before.
Indeed, the average deficit of £1,744 is a whopping 34% higher than when Royal London began compiling its reports in 2014. 28% of those people who struggled with funeral costs funded the service by borrowing from friends and family – the same high percentage as found in the study’s inaugural year – while approximately 20% were forced to enter or exacerbate their existing debt from other forms of credit to make ends meet.
The fact that many of the poorest households in the country (those receiving an annual wage of between £5,000 and £9,999) spent around the same as the national average on items such as coffins and headstones, and indeed more than many of their more affluent counterparts, shows that societal pressures may be forcing poorer families further into the red. The desire to give a loved one “a good send-off” may be tempting people to spend beyond their means and landing them in debt.
Keeping costs down
For those concerned with balancing a respectful funeral service with one that doesn’t break the bank, there are a number of ways to ensure that costs do not spiral out of control. Here are a handful of the best methods of keeping costs down when it comes to planning for the funeral of a recently departed loved one:
1) Cremation over burial. At almost £1,000 cheaper than burials, cremations are the way to go for those looking to save money without sacrificing on the service itself.
2) Direct Cremation. An even more cost-effective solution than a traditional cremation, direct cremation simply involves the disposal of the body at a crematorium and the return of the ashes in a suitable receptacle. A memorial service or ceremony can then be arranged at a later date by the bereaved party.
3) No funeral director. While funeral director costs did fall this year, they still comprise at least half of the overall cost of the average funeral. Arranging everything by yourself can cut out a significant expense, but it should not be forgotten that a professional funeral director can play an invaluable role in not only organising the service but providing support when needed.
4) Enlisting friends. Venue hire, catering and pall bearers can all be costly outlays – but can all be replaced with more personal alternatives if friends and family pitch in. Hosting the wake at a private address, asking attendees to bring refreshments to share and enlisting volunteers to carry the coffin can help to substantially reduce expenses.
5) Choosing an economical coffin. Many people wish to pay their respect to the dead by housing their remains in an elaborate coffin, but a more economical material will do the job just as well. Cardboard, chipboard and willow all provide more affordable and equally adept alternatives.
6) Time and place. The Index found that average funeral costs varied hugely across the UK; in London, the average price fell at £4,838, while in Belfast, it was just £2,950. That is of course an extreme example, but even locally costs can vary significantly. Similarly, choosing to hold the service at a less popular slot during the week can help to bring down expenses.
7) Shopping around. With so much competition for funeral directors nowadays, there is a huge variance in affordability and expertise. Use our search tool to find and compare funeral directors in your area to ensure you get the best deal.
8) Choose reverence over extravagance. When planning a funeral, it’s easy to have your judgement clouded by sentimentality and a wish to give the deceased the ideal send-off. It’s important to remember the kind of service they would have wanted themselves – and most crucially, not to bankrupt the living to bid farewell to the dead.
Those interested in reading more about the National Funeral Costs Index 2018 can find the full report here. Alternatively, if you’d like to talk to one of our advisors at Your Funeral Choice, give us a call on 01983 754 387 and we’ll be happy to provide more information on all aspects of this most difficult of times.