Can you afford to die?

As will writers, probate practitioners and legal professionals, you are well used to dealing with the shock and grief that bereavement can bring. You know too that it is often a difficult time to broach the needful and urgent issues of probate and inheritance. So you probably also understand how difficult it can be for a person to make a decision during this time about a funeral – an event which after a wedding, a house and a car is often the most expensive purchase that they will make in their lifetime.

Funeral costs have risen dramatically in the last few years. The recent BBC report (1) on cremation showed the cost of public cremation had risen by a third. The cost of funerals has risen seven times faster than the cost of living: in ten years prices have risen by 87% (2).

Funerals can be expensive. According to the Sunlife report, the average cost of dying has risen to £8,427. With such expense, it’s easy to see how people fall into debt. Their wish to give “a good send-off” to the person they’ve lost and the burden of being bereaved doesn’t make them shrewd consumers. At the Fair Funerals campaign they have found that when examined and itemised, the exact same funeral can often be purchased for several thousand pounds cheaper than what was paid.

Fair Funerals spanned from the Down to Earth project, which offers practical guidance and advocacy on finding the most affordable and appropriate funeral. Thanks to Down to Earth, clients have saved an average of £2,238 on the cost of a funeral. They have also raised £61,531 for clients with applications for government support and charitable grants.

The Fair Funerals campaign works with local and central government and the funeral industry to ensure a meaningful and affordable funeral that won’t lead to years of debt. There are three main stems to the campaign:

Educating people about their choices so they can avoid funeral poverty

As Down to Earth has shown, there are alternatives to funeral poverty and as people struggle with bills, the Cost of Dying report (2) shows that over 52% decided to administer estates themselves. But a lack of coherent information locally and nationally, and a lack of transparency universally, as to pricing and process, hampers decision making.

Influencing Government to do more for people in funeral poverty

For those on benefits or low incomes, an unplanned funeral can spell financial disaster. The Social Fund Funeral Payment was set up to ensure help for those in this position, but the average payment of £1225 would barely cover a third of a basic funeral. In 2013 half of the applications made to the Fund were turned down (4, p.22).

Local councils often control or own burial grounds and/or crematoriums. Due to the recent public sector cuts some have suggested that councils are increasing the prices of burials and cremations to recoup lost income. Also, many councils do not show their prices upfront on a website or leaflet – Fair Funerals found only half London councils have prices published and accessible on their website.

Working with the funeral industry to do more for people in funeral poverty

Because of the emotional reality of bereavement, consumers don’t tend to shop around when arranging a funeral. But people would find it difficult if they tried. Very few funeral directors show their prices upfront, or may only partially show prices, for example costs do not include disbursements, fees for flowers, funeral notices, grave-digging etc, which can vary tremendously by region and council. Fair Funerals feels strongly that the industry ought to be more transparent and many in the industry agree. Since its launch in June 2015 the Fair Funerals pledge (asking industry to charge clear prices and provide an affordable funeral package) has been signed by nearly 10% of the industry.

Fair Funerals Pledge

Funeral directors displaying the Fair Funerals logo have pledged to:

1) Recognise funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.

2) Make the most affordable funeral package visible to the public, including third party costs.

3) Charge clear prices for goods and services so people know what they’re buying. Communicate prices in initial conversation and prominently display full price lists.

Although many people plan a funeral and set aside money towards it, death can often be an unexpected event and the price of a funeral much more than what was anticipated. With an aging population, a lot of savings are being depleted by health care bills and income lost because of time off work to care for someone. According to a report from the New Policy Institute (5) poverty has risen in the last few years and is expected to rise and so there will always be people who struggle with the cost of living and cannot put anything by for a funeral.

With funeral prices also set to rise (4, p4), the emotional and financial burden of arranging a funeral for family, friends and colleagues will become more difficult. Fair Funerals believe that everyone deserves an affordable, decent funeral.

Case Study

James’s story:

“After my wife lost her long battle with cancer I came to Down to Earth. I had no idea how I was going to raise the money for her funeral. I had been left with four school age children and because I’d been my wife’s main carer and had to give up work, our savings were almost all gone. I was really shocked when our local funeral director quoted me £6,300 for a burial, I didn’t know what to do. The Government had turned me down for a Social Fund Funeral Payment but Down to Earth helped me appeal and eventually after six months I was awarded £1,650 to help clear the debt I’ve been left with. I’ve still been left with a hefty debt which I’m paying off at £12.50 a week”.

References

(1) BBC News: Cost of Public Cremation Rises By a Third – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33905444

(2) Sunlife: Cost of Dying 2014 — The 8th Annual Report – www.sunlifedirect.co.uk/press-office/2014-cost-of-dying-soars/

(3) Royal London: Are We Losing the Plot? – http://www.iccm-uk.com/iccm/library/2758%20Royal%20London%20Funeral%20poverty%20report%20V3%2001.12.14.pdf

(4) Which? Dying Better: The Consumer Experience at the End of Life – http://www.which.co.uk/about-which/who-we-are/quarterly-consumer-reports/dying-better—the-consumer-experience-at-the-end-of-life/

(5) What happened to poverty under the Coalition? – http://www.npi.org.uk/publications/income-and-poverty/what-happened-poverty-under-coalition/

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