Funeral costs fall to £4,056 for a basic service

Cost of a basic funeral fell for the first time on record last year, but growing number of families opted for budget cremations during the pandemic

  • Average price of a standard cremation or burial fell 3.1% last year 
  • The cost of a full-scale send-off dropped 4.3% to £8,864
  • Direct cremations with no service soared, but price rose 6% to £1,647

Budget cremations: One fifth of families now opt for no funeral service

Nearly one in five bereaved families now choose a budget cremation for their loved ones, new research shows.

That is a jump from just 3 per cent two years ago, as the expense and pandemic restrictions have deterred many people from holding traditional funerals.

A ‘direct cremation’ is conducted with no funeral service and mourners, but ashes are returned to a family afterwards, allowing them to organise a personal memorial at a time of their choosing.

The average price of this budget option rose 6 per cent to £1,647 in 2021, according to annual research on the cost of dying by SunLife.

The price of a basic funeral covering cremation or burial, a funeral director, doctor, and minister or celebrant, fell 3.1 per cent to £4,056 last year, the firm found.

And the cost of a full-scale send-off, also including a memorial, death and funeral notices, flowers, order sheets, limousines, the venue and catering for a wake, fell 4.3 per cent to £8,864.

>>>What if you can’t afford to hold a funeral? We explain the help available here 

Price trend: The drop in the average cost of a basic funeral was the first SunLife has reported since it launched annual surveys in 2004 (Source: SunLife)

Price trend: The drop in the average cost of a basic funeral was the first SunLife has reported since it launched annual surveys in 2004 (Source: SunLife)

SunLife says its survey in mid-2021 found 85 per cent of people who had organised a funeral in the previous 18 months said Covid-19 affected the kind of event they could hold.

Among these people, 53 per cent claimed the funeral was affected a lot, 55 per cent that there were things they couldn’t do or had to cut back on, and 20 per cent that it caused them notable financial concerns.

Clampdown on funeral plans 

The Financial Conduct Authority is set to impose strict rules on how funeral plans are sold to people looking to protect relatives against the expense of their send-off in advance 

This will come into force on 29 July this year, and follows an outcry against rip-off providers led by This is Money’s sister publication Money Mail. 

SunLife asked people what was cut back on, and 16 per cent said they chose a cheaper coffin.

The same percentage spent less on flowers, 15 per cent held a wake at home, 10 per cent didn’t use a hearse or limousine, 11 per cent decided against embalming, 10 per cent shopped around for the best price and 8 per cent did not use order of service cards.

Mark Screeton, chief executive, says: ‘It is clear from our report that the pandemic has triggered a fundamental shift in people’s attitudes.

‘Most notably, the option of a direct cremation is becoming far more widely understood and accepted.

‘Over 90 per cent of funeral directors now offer direct cremations. As well as reducing costs, direct cremations also increase flexibility, allowing families more choices to organise the send-off whenever and wherever they like.’

Screeton says that with government restrictions limiting the kind of send-off people could have for much of last year, neither the drop in the cost of funerals nor the rise in direct cremations are a surprise.

‘There are other changes that look set to become a permanent part of the funeral industry too – webcasts, video recording and social media all proved integral to how we said farewell to the people we love.’

Why did families opt for budget cremations? 

SunLife says people gave the following reasons.

‘A direct cremation was chosen because of Covid-19 restrictions…I plan to hold a celebration of life event once all restrictions are lifted.’ 

‘My dad didn’t want a fuss. Neither did he want to have my mum face large costs.’

‘My husband asked me to organise a direct cremation, so that the pressure was taken off of me.’ 

The drop in the average cost of a basic or full funeral was the first SunLife has reported since it launched annual surveys in 2004.

However, it found that costs still rose in some parts of the country, notably London where the average price rose 2.3 per cent to £5,358, The capital remains the most expensive place to die in the UK.

The price also rose in Yorkshire and the Humber, but it fell in the south east and east of England and in the East and West Midlands, which are the other most expensive regions.

Northern Ireland still has the most affordable funerals, and the average price fell again by 5.2 per cent to £3,056 last year.

Prices fell 4.7 per cent to £3,873 in Scotland and 4.8 per cent to £3,540 in Wales. Costs rose in north west and north east England, but dropped in south west England.

The SunLife report was based on interviews last summer with 100 funeral directors across the UK and 1,600 individuals who have been involved in organising a funeral. 

What do funeral directors say about impact of pandemic? 

‘I don’t think funerals will ever be attended in the same way again. People have become used to small gatherings and there are now webcast options, which is especially great for people living far away.’

‘I don’t think there will be as many large funeral services. And funeral donations have suffered terribly so the charities aren’t receiving as much anymore.’

‘Costing may go down. Also, because direct cremations have been used more, we may see this become a trend as a simple or straightforward funeral option.’ 

Funeral trends:  Direct cremations are far more common since pandemic

Funeral trends:  Direct cremations are far more common since pandemic