A guide to funeral costs and how to reduce them

Guy Pierce / 05 November 2015

A guide to how much funerals cost and ways to save money.

The cost of dying is increasing at a higher rate than the cost of living. While UK inflation hovers between 0-1%, a recent report says that UK funeral costs have risen over the past year at an average rate of nearly 4%.

The average cost of a funeral director’s services, plus the burial or cremation is around £3,700, with a London funeral, not surprisingly, coming in at the £4,400 mark. In the rest of the country, it’s some £850 cheaper, with variations of around £100 from region to region.

However, this provides only the most basic of ceremonies.

Read our guide to planning and paying for your funeral.

Additional costs

Certain costs are unavoidable. Registering a death is free. However, it is advisable to have several copies of the certificate made (from £4-£7 each) in order to facilitate closure of bank accounts, etc. Mobile phone and internet providers will insist on a copy (not a photostat) of the death certificate before closing an account.

If the body is being cremated, then a doctor’s certificate is required (but not for burial, or if the body is in the hands of the coroner or, in Scotland, Procurator Fiscal). This does not come under the NHS. Expect to pay around £160.

You may wish to place a notice of death in a local paper. This is not a statutory obligation but expect to pay around £80 for a basic notice.

Find out more about buying a burial plot.

How to save costs

No one wants to appear to be penny pinching at such a sensitive time. What you wish to spend (and can afford to) is entirely a personal matter for surviving relatives and, of course, the wishes of the deceased, if appropriate and manageable.

Plan ahead

It may be that the deceased had taken out a funeral plan. These spread some of the costs of a funeral, with monthly payments over a period of 12 months, or even up to 10 years. 

Some costs may not be included in a plan. If you are buying a plan look very carefully at what is covered. Many simply cover the funeral director’s services and won’t take into account burial/cremation costs and disbursements, such as a church service, burial plot, or services of an organist or musicians, if required. They probably won’t cover floral tributes, additional car hire and any post-ceremony refreshments.

It will ease the financial strain of those organising your funeral but do ensure you, and they, know exactly what you are getting for your money. And what you are not!

Read more about the different types of funeral.

Funeral directors

The services of a funeral director will start at around the £2,200 mark. While funeral directors can take on all aspects of a funeral, you may want to assume some duties yourself in order to cut costs. Talk to your funeral director about the process, stage by stage.

Is a chapel of rest necessary, and the embalming that might go with it? Do you need a hearse and limousine?  Would friends and relatives act as pall bearers?

The decision is yours. Your wishes are paramount. If a funeral director objects to what you want, ask why. If you are not happy, then consider going to another provider.

In fact, there is no legal obligation to use a funeral director at all. You may wish to handle the funeral yourself. However, weigh up the responsibilities carefully. Are you confident in taking on the duties yourself at such a stressful time?

The Natural Death Handbook published by the Natural Death Centre charity provides a thorough guide to conducting the funeral arrangement process (£20, from http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/).

What is the etiquette for attending a funeral?

The coffin

Whether a burial or cremation, a coffin is used just the once. Do not feel obliged to buy through the funeral director. A funeral director cannot object to you supplying the coffin yourself.

Research the cost by looking online and consider buying direct, cutting out any mark-up the funeral director may add on. There are a number of sites dealing direct, including http://www.comparethecoffin.com/ and http://www.feetfirstcoffins.co.uk/.

If opting for a natural burial you may settle for a shroud instead. These can even be used in cremation, but do check with your crematorium first.

Cremation and burial charges

Whether a burial or cremation, your local cemetery/crematorium (be it privately run or local authority owned) will have a range of charges. You should bear these in mind. They all add up. For example, simply over-running at a crematorium service could find you landed with an additional charge of £150.

Ask for a full list of possible charges (strewing of ashes, maintenance of a grave, cost of a memorial plaque, etc).

These fees and charges by Hastings Borough Council, for example, are a good benchmark for what you might be expected to pay at a council owned and run cemetery (see more charges here).

Find out more about cremations.

Direct funerals

Direct funerals are very basic, low-budget funerals. In essence, they are cremations or burials without the funeral proceedings.

A funeral director, usually from your region, collects the body, attends to the paperwork, provides a basic coffin or shroud and books the crematorium or burial area at a time (and cost) suitable to them. With crematoria, it is usually the first or last slot of the day, the two least popular times.

As relatives, you have no say whatsoever in date, time or location. Once the body has gone, then that is all you have to do with it. Ashes will be returned to you, if you wish, though a courier fee may be charged. And you will be notified of the location of the ashes, if you prefer they are strewn, or the place of burial.

Some direct funeral directors will be able to offer ‘all-in’ cremation from around £1,000, though the £1,300-£1,800 bracket is probably realistic, bearing in mind crematoria running costs.

This is very much ‘no fuss’. It is something you may wish to discuss with friends and relatives, who may find it disrespectful. They may feel attending a funeral helps them with closure.

A direct funeral does allow you to free up the budget for a memorial service at a later date, which you may feel more appropriate. Most families plan a memorial ceremony at a later date or maybe in another country.

For a list of direct funeral cremation providers, visit http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk.

For natural burials, visit http://respectgb.co.uk/  (Lincolnshire-based but providing a national service) or www.highergroundmeadow.co.uk (West Country). Or contact info@directfuneral.co.uk.

Tips for dealing with grief.

Other savings

For floral tribute savings and other savings suggestions read our guide to green funerals.

Government assistance

If you are on low income and in receipt of certain benefit you can get help towards immediate funeral costs. However, the money is expected to be repaid from the deceased’s estate, should there be one.

Click here for more articles about death and bereavement

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.