Thousands of bereaved families left in debt by soaring funeral costs

4 September 2019

Around 12% of people struggle to pay for a funeral after costs soar

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The average cost of a funeral in the UK has soared in recent years leaving many families thousands of pounds in debt, new research shows.

Bereaved families are taking on an average of £1,990 debt to pay for a funeral, according to Royal London.

The total amount of funeral debt in the UK has risen to £147 million, up 12% from last year.

The report found 12% of people - around 74,000 bereaved families - struggled to cover the cost of a funeral.

Of those who struggled, one in four (27%) said they went into debt from credit cards, loans or overdrafts. One in five (20%) borrowed money from family or friends and nearly one in eight (12%) had to choose a cheaper funeral.

Funeral costs

Funeral costs are at an all-time high, with a basic funeral in the UK costing £3,785, an increase of £28 from last year.

London remains the most expensive region with a funeral costing £4,939 on average, whilst Northern Ireland is the least expensive, with the average cost of a funeral at £2,943.

The difference between the most and least expensive locations in the UK is more than £10,000.

A burial in Kensal Green in London costs more than £13,000, while Belfast in Northern Ireland is the least expensive location with a cost of £2,943.

Royal London found that the amount spent on a funeral between income groups varies very little. Those with an income of less than £5,000 a year spend at least 65% of their annual income on a funeral, compared to just 3% at most for those on £150,000 or more a year.

Royal London’s funeral cost expert, Louise Eaton-Terry, says: “As bereaved families continue to take on thousands of pounds of debt to pay for their loved ones’ funerals, support from the state remains woefully inadequate.”

Funeral Expenses Payment

For those who can’t afford a funeral, local councils will pay for a ‘pauper’s funeral’. These tend to be very basic and do not have flowers or a wake.

Alternatively, the government’s Funeral Expenses Payment helps certain individuals who are on a low income to pay for a funeral they are responsible for organising.

The fund covers the full cost of burial or cremation and up to £700 in funeral directors’ fees.

However, critics say state support for those on low income is inadequate as it only covers 39% of the cost of a simple funeral.

Ms Eaton-Terry says: “The government have tinkered around the edges and made some improvements to the Funeral Expenses Payment benefit, but the fact remains that the fund does not cover the full cost of a simple funeral.

"The value of the fund is seriously lacking with no serious action being taken to increase it and help support the bereaved who are being crippled with funeral debt.”

Investigation

The government is cracking down on unscrupulous funeral firms that pressure customers into buying pre-paid plans.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the funeral market in March and the Treasury announced in June that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will regulate pre-paid funeral plans.

Under the proposed changes, funeral firms that mislead and use high-pressure sales methods could face fines and criminal charges.

While Ms Eaton-Terry welcomed the government’s intervention she voiced concerns about whether it would be effective.

She says: “Despite the increased level of scrutiny from the government and competition regulator, it is unclear whether these investigations and interventions will make an immediate and tangible difference to consumers.

“Funeral poverty is a glaring omission from the scope of these government reviews. There is no consideration as to whether the Department for Work and Pensions’ Funeral Expenses Payment is fit for purpose.

“The inconsistent provision of public health funerals by local authorities and the punitive measures taken by some councils to deter those most in need from turning to the local authority for help with a funeral is also not addressed.

“It is therefore time for the government and funeral industry to work together and support the bereaved who are facing funeral poverty.”

Comments

Funerals £1400

If people can't afford a funeral because they failed to make a plan through their lifetime, why should they be so much in debt when Co-op offer basic funeral for £1400, frills and flowers are not essential especially when you can't afford to pay.

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