Money Wellness
Image of a coffin with a floral display on top and a sad looking woman standing over it place a single flower on top
calendar icon16 Jan 2024

Has dying become unaffordable to millions?

The ‘cost of dying’ has reached a record high in the UK with families having to cut back on how they choose to celebrate a loved one’s life, according to SunLife’s annual cost of dying report.

2023 saw the total cost of dying go up by 5% to £9,658 – the highest figure ever. Increases in both send-off and professional fees mean families are now paying an average of £458 more than they were in 2022.

Professional fees saw the greatest rise at 6.6% however this was less than the 10.9% growth experienced in 2022. Send-off costs – the price of optional extras like transport, catering, a wake, and flowers - grew by 3.7% to £2,768. And funeral costs are now setting families back £2,768 – up 3.7%.

Rising prices has resulted in more families choosing to forgo celebrations to keep costs to a minimum.  Instead, they’re settling for direct cremation or burial – where the deceased are taken straight to the cemetery and buried - setting them back between £1,498 and £1,657 respectively.

One in five (20%) of families have experience financial concerns when paying for a funeral. Most of them find the money by delving into their savings (35%), using a credit card (25%), or borrowing from a friend or relative (25%). The number of people forced to sell belongings to cover the cost has risen by 3% to 18%.

The cost of living has also impacted how families pay for and organise a funeral, with one in four (20%) saying that paying for a send off affected their standard of living. 6% of those said they struggled to pay bills, with a further 10% cutting back on essentials like food as a result.

Of those who experienced notable financial difficulties when paying for a funeral, over three in four (76%) said it impacted their mental health. And 67% said it had impacted their physical health too.

As the cost of dying rises, more and more families are looking for ways to keep their spending low. 50% (up 2% on 2022) of people are actively cutting back on certain aspects of the funeral to keep costs down.

And this should be easy to do, with 93% of funeral directors saying people spend more than they need to on things such as catering and the coffin. While a staggering 82% of funeral directors stated families waste too much money on flowers alone.

Unsurprisingly then, the number of people pre-paying for their funeral has risen to 21% - a 3% rise since 2022.

How much does the average funeral cost?

The average basic funeral costs £4,141. While the overall cost of dying – the total spent on a person’s send-off including professional fees for administering the estate, a basic funeral and optional extras like a party or wake, stands at £9,658.

What happens if you can’t afford a funeral?

If someone dies without enough money for a funeral and there is no one to take responsibility to pay for it, the local authority will bury or cremate them.

This is called a ‘public health funeral’ and includes a short service, a coffin, and a funeral director to transport them to the crematorium or cemetery. Extras like flowers, cars or notices in the local newspaper aren’t included. And the local council will decide the time and date of the cremation or burial.

Can you get help with funeral costs?

Funeral expenses payment

Funeral expenses payment is a government scheme for people on a low income who are receiving certain benefits to help them pay for a funeral.

If you get one of these payments, you’ll usually have to pay it back from any money you get from the person’s estate, such as their savings.

It won’t cover the whole funeral bill, so you might have to pay up to a third of the cost of a simple funeral.

It can help pay for:

  • Death certificates or other documents
  • Cremation fees, including the cost of the doctor’s certificate
  • Travel to arrange or go to the funeral
  • The cost of moving the body within the UK, if it’s being moved more than 50 miles
  • Burial fees for a particular plot
  • You can also get up to £1,000 for any other funeral expenses, such as funeral director’s fees, flowers or the coffin

You can apply for a funeral expenses payment if you’re getting one or more of the following benefits:

  • Universal credit
  • Income support
  • Housing benefit
  • The disability or sever disability element of working tax credit
  • Pension credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance

You must also have a qualifying relationship with the deceased to be able to claim a funeral expenses payment. This includes being:

  • The partner, close friend or relative of the person who died
  • The parent of a baby stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • The parent of a child who has died who was under 16, or under 20 and in full time approved education

You’ll be classed as a close relative if you were:

  • The parent, father-in-law, mother-in-law or step-parent
  • The son, son-in-law, step-son or step-son-in-law
  • The daughter, daughter-in-law, step-daughter or step-daughter-in-law
  • The brother or brother-in-law or sister or sister-in-law

And the person who died is deemed your partner if you:

  • Lived with them and they were your husband, wife or civil partner or lived with them as if you were a married couple
  • Lived with them as if you were a married couple immediately before you or they went to live in a care home
  • Were a married couple or civil partners and living in the same care home
  • Were living together as if you were a married couple in the same care home before your partner died

You have six months from the date of the funeral to make a claim.

Children’s funeral fund

In England, the children’s funeral fund can contribute up to £300 towards any reasonable funeral costs such as burial fees, cremation fees and a coffin, shroud or casket.

In Wales, there’s a £500 contribution toward the funeral and other related costs such as floral tributes and plaques.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the average payment is £1,000 towards any reasonable funeral costs.

Funeral grants

There are several charities and private organisations offering grants to help towards funeral costs. Find out what’s available and if you qualify at Turn2us.

What is a pre-paid funeral plan?

Some people will have already arranged to pay for their funeral. This is normally in the form of a pre-paid funeral plan or funeral insurance. This is called a funeral plan.

With a funeral plan, you have to use that funeral director - or one from an approved list - to arrange the funeral.

It’s a good idea to check exactly what’s covered by the plan before you arrange the funeral. Funeral plans often don’t cover all the expenses of a funeral so be prepared to pay for some of the costs yourself.

What is funeral insurance?

This is a type of insurance that pays out a fixed lump sum which should cover the cost of a funeral.

This insurance is sometimes known as an ‘over 50’s plan.’

When the lump sum is paid out, you can use it to pay for a funeral from any funeral director you choose.

You should check how much the lump sum is before you make any funeral arrangements.

If the price of the funeral is more than the sum, you’ll need to pay for any extras.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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