Lowering Funeral Costs in the UK

After the death of a loved one, one of the main challenges people face is arranging a funeral. There are many things to consider, including the style of funeral, burial or cremation, coffins, headstones and flowers, to name a few. While these decisions can seem overwhelming, it is best to try and think of them as cathartic and distracting.

However, one cause of stress while preparing a funeral is money. The high cost of funerals in the UK comes as a surprise to many, and can weigh on your mind, making decisions more difficult. It is normal to feel uneasy or torn when considering this uncomfortable subject, but it is important to remember that it is not wrong or disrespectful to think seriously about the cost of a funeral. On average, funerals cost around £3,757, so it is worth looking at your options to see what is reasonable and what can be rearranged.

What makes a good funeral?

It is worth considering what your loved one would have valued most for their funeral. Music, words and actions are often the most meaningful part of a service, while an expensive car or coffin usually goes unnoticed.

The person who has died might have already made arrangements for their funeral, either in a formal funeral plan with a pre-paid a funeral director or funeral care company, or informally with a family member. It is worth checking in their will and with those closest to them to be certain of exactly what is covered by their funeral plan before you arrange a funeral, as funeral plans don’t necessarily cover all the expenses.

The following is a list of the key points to consider. Some of these may already be outlined in a funeral plan.

  • Will you use a Funeral Director? The guidance offered by funeral directors can be helpful, but it is worth remembering that funeral direction is a business and this adds to the cost. If you choose this path, make sure you get at least two quotes before making a decision. Try independent and chain-owned funeral directors to see where the best fit lies. 
  • Will the funeral involve a burial or a cremation?

This decision may be easily made, as many cultures prefer one or other. If you haven’t decided yet, it is worth noting that the cost of cremation is much lower than the cost of a burial, and in the West Midlands the difference can be over £1000. 

  • Help with payments

You might be able to get help paying for the funeral if you are on a low income and receiving certain benefits, including Universal Credit. We’ll talk more about this later in the article.

Average Cost of a Funeral in the UK

According to latest figures, the average funeral in the UK costs £3,757, with higher costs for burials, and lower for cremations. The average cost of a burial in the UK is £4,267, while a cremation usually costs around £3,247. [1] This figure comes down significantly among those who opt not to use a funeral director, although it is uncommon for people to choose this option.

lower funeral costs

Why use a funeral director?

A funeral director acts as an advisor and planner for a funeral ceremony. They will discuss your requirements with you and take responsibility for arranging all aspects of the funeral.

 Their advice and support through these arrangements can be helpful, giving you time to grieve while they make sure you don’t leave out any key parts of the planning process.  

A funeral director will collect, store and prepare the body and deliver them to the crematorium or cemetery. They will help you get all of the correct paperwork and make your booking for the ceremony. Some funeral directors will also arrange a simple ceremony, handle special music requests and arrange for obituary cards or thank you cards to be sent out after the ceremony as part of their fee. Funeral directors provide the hearse, coffin and usually a limousine to take close family members to and from the ceremony.

How much is a funeral director?

It’s important to recognise that funeral directors are a business, and that their services can make up the 50-60% of the funeral costs. The cost of a funeral director varies hugely by region, so looking at firms in your area will help you get a good idea of what you can expect to pay. You should look around for a funeral director with a good price range, rather than choosing the first one. Independent funeral directors are often cheaper than national chains, but it is worth checking your options. You can find a funeral director in your area by visiting the Fair Funerals Campaign or Funeral Choice. It is important to visit more than one and get multiple quotes to find the price that suits you.

In the UK, the average cost of a cremation with a funeral director is £3,247. A burial with a funeral director has an average cost of £4,267. These costs are worked out to cover the collection and care of the deceased, a simple coffin, a hearse, ministers fees, cremation fees and cremation certificate from a doctor, as well as the arrangement of a simple service or ceremony. The cost is likely to be much higher for an elaborate ceremony.

Optional Funeral Costs

Additional costs can add up quickly, depending on what you choose, such as the type of coffin or car, flowers, orders of service and so on. These elements are all arranged by the funeral director if you choose to use one, and are something to consider when making this decision. By no means should you feel pressured into purchasing everything that is offered. You can also ask a funeral director if they offer a simple funeral plan to ensure costs are kept low.

Items and services you can add to a funeral plan include:

  • Headstone/Memorial Plaque
  • Coffin or Shroud
  • Limousine
  • Venue hire (for a wake or reception)
  • Catering
  • Flowers
  • Death notice, Obituary or Funeral Notice publication
  • Order of service sheets
  • Urn
  • Death Certificate Copies (multiple copies are needed for probate and cost from £11 per copy)

Make sure you think carefully about which of these items will really contribute meaning to the funeral. Not all of them are necessary to create a memorable ceremony.

What is a Basic or Simple Funeral?

A basic or simple funeral is offered by most funeral directors and includes the necessary parts of a funeral that are common to all services, such as collection, care and transportation of the deceased, cremation fees or ministerial fees, paperwork and the guidance of a funeral director. Opting for a simple funeral means that the funeral director will still manage the arrangements for your funeral, but there will be less choice about certain elements, such as the date and time of the service, viewings, the type of coffin or hearse. 

A simple funeral package may not include the third party costs or ‘disbursement costs’ which also make up the cost of a funeral. These cover essential fees such as gravediggers wages, crematorium fees or payments made to a minister or celebrant. The funeral directors will require additional payment to arrange these items and services.

What is Direct Cremation?

‘Direct cremation’ is an alternative to a cremation ceremony. The average cost of direct cremation is £1,712, and the service includes the collection of the deceased, a simple coffin, the cremation and the return of the ashes. If you opt for a direct cremation, you can organise a ceremony at home or arrange a funeral yourself to celebrate your loved one’s life and help mark their passing away. 

How to Reduce the Cost of a Funeral

Limiting the amount you or your loved ones spend on a funeral is possible by choosing alternatives to the most expensive elements of the ceremony. There are many options for this, some of which are non-traditional methods.

Burial and cremation fees can be particularly expensive in inner city areas where space and time is limited. You might consider a direct cremation rather than a service in the crematorium. A natural burial is often cheaper and more environmentally friendly than a traditional interment. This involves a burial in a protected area of natural beauty in as natural a way as possible. 

Rather than hiring a limousine and chauffeur, you might consider asking family members to make their own way to the funeral. Similarly, hosting the wake at home or at the home of the deceased and asking family to bring food will remove the costs of venue hire and catering services.

A more modern way might be to ‘crowdfund’ your funeral, asking those who knew the deceased to contribute some money towards an appropriate celebration of their life. This method is increasing in popularity, as people generally feel a desire to help which may not have another outlet.

Help paying for a funeral

The UK government offers financial support to pay for a funeral, which you may be eligible for if you receive certain benefits and have a low income. Known as the ‘Funeral Expenses Payment’, the government will give money to pay for some of the costs of a burial, cremation, travel and documents, and up to £700 to pay for other fees such as funeral director’s fees, flowers or a coffin. Unfortunately, this payment does not cover all of the costs of a funeral, and will be deducted from any money you receive from the estate of the deceased. More information about Funeral Expenses Payment is available on the UK government website, at https://www.gov.uk/funeral-payments.

Practical ways to plan for your funeral

If you have the luxury of time, it is a good idea to think about your funeral and discuss it with your loved ones. Discuss what is important to you, asking what will make the ceremony most healing for those attending. Choose music, flower types, and any readings or poems that hold meaning for you. Talk about locations, grave markers, whether a burial or cremation is best, and talk about ways to reduce the cost, letting your loved ones know that it is not disrespectful to be concerned with the cost of a funeral.

It is usually possible to make a funeral plan in advance with a funeral director, and many offer options to pre-pay to take the burden off loved ones. After a loved one passes away it is worth checking whether or not they have taken out a plan or left instructions for funeral arrangements.

We hope this article has helped you navigate some of the intricacies of planning a funeral. It is normal and natural to feel anxious about money, particularly when these anxieties come in a period of mourning, and taking steps to reduce the costs of a funeral is a sensible course of action. 

[1] Data taken from MoneyAdviceService.org.uk