The Average Cost of a Funeral in the UK

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By Crispin O'Toole-Bateman

on Tuesday 17 September 2019

Person holding flower at funeral

Staggeringly, the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3,757, and the reality is that many funerals are many thousands of pounds more. In fact, many experienced funeral directors across the country recommend budgets between £6,000 and £10,000 to bury your loved ones.

Are you prepared to face such costs if someone in your family dies? What about your own death – have you put any plans in place to help the burden?

At Unite Life, we provide the best personal finance advice available – join us as we look into the final large expense of your life: being laid to rest.

Why are funerals so expensive in the UK?

One expense is obvious on a small island such as ours and that’s the price of a burial plot. Putting aside cremations for a little while (although the cost of burial plots is often a drive to consider a cremation for many), simply purchasing a small section of a graveyard can cost as much as £8,000 (this is the price for a non-resident to secure a plot in Greenwich). Highgate Cemetery (the resting place of Karl Marx among others) tops the list with a burial fee of £18,325.

What many people don’t realise though is that, technically, you don’t own the ground – you are only leasing it for a century or so.

There are many other factors that lead to the cost of a funeral spiralling, from the services of a funeral director through to the cost of flowers, a headstone and catering for the day.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help lower the cost of a funeral.

Cremation – the alternative to a burial

Cremations are considerably cheaper than being buried, and while that shouldn’t necessarily be a reason in itself to choose one, it’s bound to be a factor for many people. The average cost of a funeral cremation in the UK is £3,247 but this can be brought down by over £1,500 by choosing a simple direct cremation.

Direct cremation includes the collection of the deceased from the morgue, a simple coffin and return of the ashes to the family and has an average cost of £1,712. It was the preferred choice of David Bowie and John Lennon so you’ll be in good company – especially if you like music!

Cremations don’t have to be so stark, however, and a full funeral ceremony can be held for those who prefer this idea – though then you are back to racking up the costs.

A breakdown of funeral costs in 2019

The funeral director

Having a professional help you through the process is a very good idea. Due to their nature, funerals occur during a time of emotional upheaval and it can sometimes be very difficult to make the right choices (or any choices at all) when you are freshly grieving. Spending time sitting on the phone arranging transportation or flowers can be particularly hard soon after the death of a loved one.

A funeral director is expensive, and is likely to add between £1,000 and £2,000 to the total bill, but their services are invaluable to many mourners.

A local funeral director will listen to you, arrange and run the whole funeral to your wishes. They can advise on everything from coffin prices through to funeral flowers and will organise burial plots or cremations for you.

The essentials

You will have to pay for the cremation or burial (including internment – the process of digging the hole and laying the coffin). Burial fees are an additional £1,960 (UK average) on top of the cost of the plot discussed earlier. Cremation fees are much more affordable at £159 on average.

It is not actually essential that you have a coffin and you can use a shroud instead. Coffins come in many varieties, from easily bio-degradable ones made from banana leaf, to ornate mahogany caskets topping £10,000. Urns, too, come in a wide variety and can be as cheap as £30, or as expensive as you have budget to stretch – or you can opt for an ash scattering rocket, and send the remains of your loved one into the sky to be released half a mile in the air!

The funeral itself

If you are having a ceremony, then you will need to pay for a venue, the cost of any officials (often a voluntary contribution) and any costs associated with the ceremony (flowers, catering, transportation etc.)

Take a look at this chart for some of the average prices of related services:

  • Venue hire: £360
  • Catering: £422
  • Flowers: £152
  • Limousine: £305
  • Funeral notice: £78
  • Order of service sheets: £60

Administration

While not strictly a cost associated with the funeral, you will discover that there are administration costs that come with the death, including obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate at £11 per copy.

Multiple copies of a death certificate are required as an official copy will be needed by many companies including insurance providers, banks and building societies. It is not uncommon for people to purchase 6 or 7 death certificates when their loved ones pass.

True budget funerals – burial at home

In the UK there is no law against burial on private land. If you own rural land, or even if you want to bury a loved one in your garden, then you can. You will need to:

  • Make sure the death is properly registered. Without a death certificate it would look very suspicious if you were to bury someone in your garden or corn field.
  • Own the land freehold.
  • Make sure there are no restrictive covenants attached to the title deals that prohibit burial.
  • Take consideration regarding local water supply and below-ground infrastructure.
  • Make sure there is a minimum of one metre of depth from the coffin top to the soil surface.
  • Keep a burial register in a safe place to be passed to any future owners of the land.

But you do not need to use a coffin, get planning permission, or use an official or funeral director to conduct a ceremony.

Paying funeral costs – preparing for funeral expenses

There are two main ways you can prepare for funeral costs in the UK, outside of saving for money in advance. These are prepaid funeral plans and life insurance.

Prepaid funeral costs

A funeral plan is typically done by you to arrange for your own funeral. It can be done with most funeral directors and would mean you discussing your wishes with them in advance, paying for it and letting your family know that it has been taken care of.

Prepaid funeral plans can be paid all at once, as part of an instalment plan (typically over six months or a year) or even as a life insurance policy where the money is directly payable to the funeral director. With these options, it can mean finding around £4,000 in advance, looking to pay multiple repayments for a year of £300 or so, or paying approximately £30 a month towards a life insurance-style policy until your death.

Read more: 10 Life Insurance Facts You May Not Know

Some of the pros and cons of prepaid funerals include:

  • The cost of the funeral will be at today’s prices, so could be considerably cheaper when inflation is considered.
  • You know that your wishes will be followed.
  • Your family will not be left footing the entire funeral bill.

But…

  • Prepaid funerals rarely cover all the costs – your loved ones will probably need to pay for some of the secondary costs such as flowers or catering.
  • You are locked into a funeral you might later want to change.
  • You need to have the money in advance to pay for the service.

Life insurance

Over 50s plans are the standard go-to life insurance product for paying for your funeral. With guaranteed acceptance and affordable monthly costs, they provide a lump sum to your family to help them pay for the entire funeral.

Find out more about the different types of life insurance:

For more information about over 50s life insurance, look to our library of life insurance articles. The pros and cons include:

  • The payout can cover the entire cost of the funeral and even leave some over to add to your inheritance.
  • A low monthly sum makes it easy to afford the insurance.
  • Your family can arrange the funeral you want, but have the discretion to adapt as needed.

The disadvantages are:

  • Over 50s plans typically have a one or two-year waiting period after they start during which time they don’t pay out the full amount.
  • You will need to pay monthly until you reach your 85th birthday and a failure to make a payment could lose the entire insurance.
  • You could pay in more than the insurance pays out.

Who pays for a funeral if there is no money?

The estate of the deceased is responsible for covering funeral costs. This means that any money you leave behind, or any assets (such as a car or property) can (at the discretion of the executor of your will and with your wishes in mind) be sold to cover the funeral expenses.

However, the probate process inevitably takes longer than the time needed to pay for the funeral, so often the money isn’t accessible to pay for even a cheap funeral. In these instances, the executor or another family member can pay for the funeral out of their own funds (or through a loan) and have the estate pay them back when probate is complete.

If the estate is insolvent

Secured debts (such as a mortgage) must be paid by the estate before funeral costs. If there is nothing left after that point (or if there never was), then the estate is considered insolvent and there is no money to pay for a funeral.

In these cases, either the family can pay for the funeral or the local council will arrange for a public health funeral. This will be a very basic affair, but is dignified and respectful.

How long after death is a funeral in the UK?

Most funerals take place within two weeks of the death, but if you need longer to arrange everything then you can ask your funeral director to make the required arrangements.

If you need to wait a considerable amount of time for any reason, then you will want to consider embalming the body – your funeral director can help with options in this case.

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