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What is a direct cremation?

Last updated 17th January 2024

6 min read

A direct cremation is a cremation with no funeral service, no ceremony performed beforehand, and no attendees. The ashes are returned to the family to do with as they wish. Direct cremation is often the cheapest option offered by funeral directors.

If you're interested in a direct cremation, read below to find out if it could be right for you and your funeral wishes.

Cremation without a funeral service

A direct cremation is the term used in the funeral industry for the simplest cremation available. It's a cremation with no funeral service or ceremony beforehand.

After death, the deceased goes straight to the crematorium to be cremated, usually in a very simple, plain coffin. After the cremation, the ashes are returned to the loved ones, to be kept or scattered according to the wishes of the deceased.

Direct cremations are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to the likes of David Bowie who chose it as a no-fuss farewell.

It's sometimes also known as a basic cremation, cremation without ceremony, simple cremation, or unattended cremation.

Find out more about how to have a funeral without a service.

How does a direct cremation work?

Before a direct cremation can take place, there is some paperwork that needs to be completed. Your cremation provider will let you know what you need to do and guide you through the process.

The cremation will be held at a time suitable for the crematorium. The family will not have the opportunity to attend or view the deceased.

The ashes may then be collected by the family to do with as they want, or some funeral providers might offer to scatter the ashes in their garden of remembrance, which can be visited by families.

What happens at a direct cremation?

A direct cremation offers a simple service. It doesn't include any pre-funeral ceremony or formal funeral.

Basic features include:

  • The body goes straight to the crematorium after death and is cremated.
  • This eliminates the need for embalming or any other preparations for the body.
  • This takes place in a simple coffin.
  • The cremation takes place at a crematorium chosen by the funeral provider. The date and time cannot be chosen.

It also appeals to people who simply can't afford or don't want a traditional funeral service and all the trappings that go with them.

Can you get cremated without a coffin?

It is possible to be cremated without a coffin, but a direct cremation typically involves a simple container, which may be made from cardboard or another cheaper material, rather than solid wood.

UK law states that a body must be covered in public, so a shroud or other covering may be used instead, but most undertakers retain the use of a coffin to make the body easier to move.

How much is a direct cremation?

In our Cost of Dying report, we found that the average cost of a direct cremation is now around £1,500. Compared to the average cost of a basic funeral at over £4,000, direct cremations are a more affordable option.

How does a direct cremation differ from a traditional cremation?

Put simply, a direct cremation is a cremation without a funeral service or a family viewing of their loved one.

The cremation is also held at a suitable time for the crematorium, without the opportunity for the family to view the deceased or attend a funeral service.

When choosing a direct cremation, it's worth checking that the funeral provider will be able to offer support and guidance at that emotional time.

As with any cremation, the deceased is always treated with the utmost respect by the funeral director.

The ashes may then be collected by the family following the cremation, though some funeral providers will offer to scatter the ashes in their garden of remembrance. This is a pleasant garden that families can visit to remember their loved ones.

Traditional cremation Direct cremation
Average cremation cost of around £3,800* Average cremation cost of around £1,500*
Usually a wood effect coffin Coffin is usually simple and practical
Family viewing at a chapel of rest (sometimes may be restricted to office hours) There is no viewing before the cremation
A funeral service at a time agreed between the family and the funeral director will take place at a crematorium. A hearse is normally included and limousines for family and friends can also be arranged The cremation will take place at a time suitable for the crematorium. As it will not be possible for family and friends to attend, many choose to hold a separate ceremony at a later date when the ashes have been collected, to celebrate the life of the deceased

Could direct cremation be the right option for me?

With the average cost of a funeral at over £4,000, more people are choosing direct cremation as a more affordable option.

But that's not the only reason for their rise in popularity. As people move away from more traditional funerals, direct cremations offer a variety of new options.

For some people, a traditional burial funeral is the only way they would like to go, or see their loved ones go.

However, there are a few reasons why a direct cremation might be more suitable for you.

1. A direct cremation is cheaper than a funeral

The average cost of a funeral has soared since we began looking at the Cost of Dying back in 2004.

The average basic cost of a funeral is now over £4,000, while the average cost of a direct cremation is comparatively low at around £1,500.

If cost is a determining factor for you in your choice of funerals, then a direct cremation could help save a considerable amount.

Find out how much a funeral could cost in your area with our funeral cost calculator.

2. There are no time constraints

With a direct cremation, there are no timed proceedings, so your loved ones won't know when the cremation will take place – they'll be given the ashes afterwards.

Unlike most funerals, which have to take place soon after the death, a direct cremation allows more flexibility, giving loved ones more time to plan a funeral or memorial service.

This can be a good solution for those of us who have family far and wide who may need to travel a great distance. It also allows for more time for loved ones to grieve and adjust.

Having the ashes, and not having to have the body stored, gives loved ones the time they might need to settle and organise a ceremony whenever and wherever feels right for them.

3. You want to avoid the funeral or cremation service

Some people don't want their loved ones to witness a cremation or burial.

Whether they've had a bad experience of a funeral themselves, or simply don't want their loved ones to have that as their lasting memory, choosing to opt for a direct cremation relieves that concern.

This also means that if you haven't had the funeral chat, or made your funeral wishes known, you won't be leaving your loved ones with any hard decisions to make, like choosing coffins, flowers or types of transportation.

4. You want a non-religious funeral

If you're looking to move away from a religious funeral, a direct cremation is a simple way of doing so.

Whether you're not religious, or you have friends or family with varied beliefs, the simple nature of a direct cremation allows you to organise any celebration of life or memorial service in the style and place of your choosing.

5. You want less fuss

For some people, the idea of a direct cremation can seem a little too simple. But many people are opting for less fuss.

If you don't have strong feelings about your funeral, don't want to spend hours agonising over what coffin or flowers to choose, or simply don't go in for elaborate displays, a direct cremation could be right for you.

If you are currently looking at different options, see our free funeral cost calculator to find out how much a basic funeral costs where you live.

Whatever you choose, letting your loved ones know your wishes will help them when the time comes, and make sure you get the send-off you want.

*Source: Cost of Dying report

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