Cost of dying hits record high amid economic struggles, research finds

Recent findings from SunLife’s annual report reveal a significant increase in the UK’s cost of dying, now at an all-time high of £9,658.

This figure includes funeral expenses, professional fees, and additional send-off costs, marking the highest point in SunLife’s 20-year record-keeping history.

The standard funeral cost, encompassing burial or cremation, funeral director fees, a mid-tier coffin, a single limousine, and fees for doctors and celebrants, has risen to £4,141, up from £3,953 last year. Additionally, increases in send-off costs to £2,768 and professional fees to £2,749 have pushed the overall annual cost up by £458. Recent hikes to inflation have contributed to a 126% increase in funeral costs in over the last 20 years, rendering the cost-of-death virtually impossible for the general working population. Dan Garrett, CEO of Farewill, said:

“It’s disappointing to see funeral costs on the rise again. At a time when people need every bit of support they can get, adding in financial stress can prevent families from grieving properly, and finding the right way to celebrate their loved ones. Encouragingly, direct cremation is still going strong, giving over 100,000 families the option to do things their own way, for a quarter of the price”.

SunLife’s report also highlights that the current cost of living crisis has led 59% of individuals to economise on funeral arrangements. Cost-saving measures include spending less on flowers, opting for more affordable coffins, or hosting home wakes. Almost 20% of respondents reduced flower expenses, among other cost-cutting strategies.

The burden of escalating funeral expenses has left 20% of families with significant financial stress. Within this group, three-quarters reported a negative impact on their mental health, while two-thirds felt physical health effects due to the financial strain of funeral costs.

Lindesay Mace, co-manager of Quaker Social Action’s funeral poverty project Down to Earth, collaborated with SunLife for the wellbeing-related questions in the report. She said:

“Bereaved people on middle and lower incomes across the UK face unaffordable funeral prices, and the stress this causes can impact their ability to grieve and take a toll on their mental and physical health. The government are legally bound to protect people’s right to health, but they are failing bereaved people at their time of need.

On average, government funeral payments across the UK cover less than 50 per cent of the cost of a basic funeral and must be increased. It is also crucial that the eligibility criteria are expanded, particularly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where around 40 per cent fewer people are able to access this help than in Scotland.”

Mace notes the data confirms what activists have argued for years. She expresses concern over reports that one in 10 people felt pressured by funeral directors to spend beyond their means. She continued:

“The impact on the health and wellbeing of people struggling with funeral costs, as seen in the report, is stark and if these people are pressured in this way, it will have devastating consequences for those bereaved people and result in bad debt for funeral directors.”

Mark Screeton, CEO at SunLife said that this year’s Cost of Dying report – their 20th edition – shows “just how high costs have become over the past 20 years”. He added:

“Even though costs actually fell in 2021 and 2022 (in part, due to the pandemic) the cost of a basic funeral has increased 126 per cent since 2004 – far higher than the rate of inflation over the same period.

Combine this with the fact that most people do not leave enough money behind to pay for their own funeral and it is understandable that so many families across the UK are struggling to cover the cost.”

Steve Wallis, Steve Wallis, managing director Distinct Cremations said:

“A record number of families struggled with funeral costs last year, as high inflation increased prices. One in five consumers struggled to pay for a funeral, with many falling into debt to cover the cost. Ten per cent more people chose a simpler direct cremation, most to save money, but many chose a direct cremation to ease stress at an emotional time.”

When consumers chose in advance through a pre-paid funeral plan, the growth of simpler, low-cost direct cremation can really be seen, with half of all funeral plan customers opting for a direct cremation. The funeral plan market, which was strictly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in 2022, is now growing again. Funeral plan providers now operate to much higher standard with far tighter financial controls. Customers’ money is now protected by the FCA’s compensation scheme, which gives real peace of mind.”

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