Why the cost of a funeral matters

Nobody likes to think about their funeral arrangements, but if you don’t consider them, you could leave behind a significant cost when you die. We’ve put together a straightforward guide to help you support your loved ones for the future.

Nobody likes to think about their funeral arrangements, but if you don’t consider them, you could leave behind a significant cost when you die. We’ve put together a straightforward guide to help you support your loved ones for the future.

Debbie Thompson
Life insurance expert
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Posted 22 APRIL 2021

Average cost of a funeral

According to SunLife’s Cost of Dying Report 2021, the cost of a basic funeral is £4,184**. That’s the highest it’s ever been since the research started in 2004 – a whopping 128% increase. 

Much of the expense comes from the funeral director, who takes care of the basics of a burial or cremation. That’s perhaps why direct cremations are becoming more popular. They’re a no-frills alternative to a traditional funeral, with no formal service or mourners present.

You should also be aware that funerals can vary significantly in cost depending on where they’re held. For example, you could pay twice the average in London. 
Funerals aren’t just about farewells, they’re a celebration of life, too. If you’re worried about the costs, you could think about taking out life insurance. This can give your family either a lump sum or monthly payments when you’re no longer around. 
**SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report

How much does a funeral typically cost?

It depends on what sort of funeral you want to have. On average, burials are over £1,000 more than cremations**.  The average cost of a basic burial has risen by 1.2% on the previous year, while the average cost of a cremation has gone up by 0.7%**. On the other hand, the cost of direct cremations, where there is no funeral service, have gone down by 4.4%

Type of funeral Average cost** 
Burial £5,033
Cremation £3,885
Direct cremation £1,554

A breakdown of the cost of dying

As well as the basic funeral costs, pandemic rules permitting, many people also want to give their loved ones a send off, which can also add to the expense.

If you ask a solicitor or accountant to handle dealing with the tax and inheritance aspects of a death for probate, expect to pay additional costs for this too.

Basic funeral services  Average cost** 
Average funeral costs £4,184
Wake and send off costs £2,532
Professional fees to administer the estate if required £2,547

Due to COVID-19, the medical certificate needed when someone dies has been temporarily suspended, meaning doctors’ fees now cost £82 – down from £164 in 2019. This doesn’t include Scotland, where it’s still free.

Funeral costs: Burial funeral

A burial is the most expensive type of funeral in the UK. Costs include:

  • the fee of the minister or officiant conducting the funeral service
  • the exclusive right of burial (in other words, the burial plot in a cemetery or garden of remembrance)
  • the interment fee for the preparation of the burial plot or grave
  • church fees for holding the funeral service in a place of worship
  • creating, installing and engraving a headstone
  • maintenance fees charged by councils for cutting the grass around the burial plot

Funeral costs: Cremation funeral

A cremation with a full service is cheaper than a burial but more expensive than a direct cremation. Costs include:

  • fees charged by the local crematorium
  • the fee of the minister or officiant conducting the funeral service
  • cremation form fees for applying for a cremation
  • a container for the cremated ashes
  • burying the ashes in a burial plot or garden of remembrance
  • creating, installing and engraving a headstone
  • doctor’s fees for drawing up cremation certificates

Funeral costs: Direct cremation

Direct cremations are the least expensive option, but they don’t offer a full-service funeral. The body goes straight to the crematorium and there’s no ceremony held. Costs include:

  • a simple coffin
  • doctor's fees for registering the death
  • collection and care of the body
  • scattering of the ashes in a garden of remembrance, or their safe return to a loved one

Did you know?

Rockstar David Bowie, who died in January 2016, chose a direct cremation for his funeral. He reportedly wanted his loved ones to celebrate his life in a place special to him rather than mourn his passing.

Using a funeral director

Most funerals are arranged through a funeral director. They can take much of the stress out of organising a farewell service at an already difficult time and sensitively guide family members through the process.

They will take care of the arrangements before, during and after the funeral service. This includes caring for and preparing the body, providing a coffin, hearse and limousines for family members and organising extras like funeral wreaths, music and orders of service.

How much is a funeral director?

The funeral director’s fees make up much of the expense of a typical funeral – often more than half the overall cost. The average cost of a funeral director now stands at £2,687**. If you’re concerned about the price, you could think about holding a simpler funeral or direct cremation.

How to find a funeral director

A good place to start is your local independent funeral director. They have practical things, like how long it takes to get to a local crematorium, down to a fine art. Some councils also run non-religious burials.

Find a funeral director who belongs to a professional association like the National Association of Funeral Directors or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). These organisations have a code of practice that means certain standards must be met and you should be told about all costs in advance.

Third-party funeral costs

Third-party funeral costs, also called ‘disbursement costs’, are expenses that a funeral director usually pays for on your behalf. The biggest of these is the burial or cremation fee, but they can also include doctors’ certificates and notices of death in a newspaper.

Costs can vary a lot depending on the type of funeral you have and you are. For example, burial costs differ hugely across the UK. In London, the average funeral cost in 2020 was from £5,235, compared with £3,222 in Northern Ireland**.

Optional funeral costs

Alongside basic funeral costs, there are also extra services you can choose to make

the funeral more personal. They could be much higher depending on the kind of venue and catering you decide on.

Additional funeral services  Average cost** 
Memorial  £1,016
Catering  £450 
Limo hire  £336
Venue hire  £282
Flowers  £193
Order sheets for service £94
Funeral notice £86
Death notice £75

How to reduce the cost of a funeral

As you can see, the cost of a funeral soon mounts up. But you can still have a send-off that’s personal and meaningful without it costing the earth.

  • Consider a direct cremation and organise your own remembrance event
  • Shop around for extras like flowers and catering
  • Ask family and friends to bring food to the wake rather than using an outside caterer
  • Choose an eco-friendly coffin or bamboo shroud instead of an expensive traditional coffin
  • Pick out a natural burial ground, such as a woodland. This can be much cheaper than a traditional cemetery
  • Rather than buying a headstone, create an online memorial where family and friends can donate to a charity

**SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report 

Can I get help with paying funeral costs?

Yes, in some cases the government can help with funeral costs. You may be eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment, depending on whether you currently receive certain benefits. In Scotland, you can apply for a Funeral Support Payment. A funeral payment can help cover some expenses, but it won’t usually cover the cost of the entire funeral.   
If there’s money remaining from the deceased’s estate, the government will usually deduct its contribution for the funeral costs from the available assets. However, you won’t need to pay it back if only personal possessions remain and if a house left is still occupied by a spouse or civil partner. 
Local councils can sometimes organise public-health funerals. This is possible for those with no family or friends, or if there’s no money in the deceased’s estate to pay for one.

Could life insurance pay for my funeral?

Life insurance is a good way of ensuring that the financial burden of arranging a funeral doesn’t fall on the people you leave behind. If you organise your life insurance well in advance it doesn’t have to be expensive, because the cost tends to go up the older you get. There are two main types of life insurance policy – term life insurance and whole of life policies. If you’re still not sure then you can read more about funeral cover.

According to the Sun Life report, 65% of people made provisions specifically to pay for their funeral – up by 2% since 2019. But only 66% of these people put enough aside to cover the whole cost of their funeral. Life insurance could be a good way to deal with a potential shortfall.

What’s the difference between a funeral plan and life insurance? 

The decision between choosing funeral plans vs life plans depends on what sort of help you’d like to leave behind. 
A funeral plan will specifically contribute towards the cost of your own funeral. This can be paid entirely up front, or you can spread the cost over an agreed period. Please be sure to read your policy details carefully, as your plan may not cover certain costs or services. 
A life plan, commonly known as ‘whole-of-life insurance’, is life insurance that’s guaranteed to pay a fixed sum when you die. If you’re interested in this, give the friendly team at LifeSearch a call on 0800 072 1147 (Mon-Thurs: 8am-8pm, Fri: 8am-7pm, Sat: 9am-2pm, Sun: 10am-3.30pm).

Whole-of-life insurance is different to decreasing term cover, where the pay-out reduces in value over the length of time the policy runs for. The difference between this and a funeral plan is that the money the beneficiary receives from your policy can be used however they wish. Funeral costs are a common use for this money, but it doesn’t have to be used this way.

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