Welcome to the SunLife Cost of Dying Research 2020
8 min read
At SunLife, we know that 69% of our customers use their over 50 life insurance plans to pay towards their funeral*. The average cost of a basic funeral has risen for the last 15 years, so it’s no surprise people want to put provisions in place.
In 2020, we’ve seen a rise in the overall cost of dying once again. It’s now at an all-time high of £9,493 (+3.1% since 2018).
In the report, we take a closer look at how the cost of dying may change in the coming years.
We also look at regional funeral costs, explore the problems facing the funeral industry, and see how traditions are changing – including the latest trends in funeral songs.
Plus, we examine how much we know about our loved ones’ funeral wishes – and our own.
Ready to find out more? Scroll down to explore some key take-outs from the report.
1. The cost of dying explained
What is the Cost of Dying Report?
The Cost of Dying Report is a sector-leading research paper, providing a credible and complete view of funeral costs over time.
SunLife has been tracking funeral costs since 2004, while the specific data set compared in the Cost of Dying Report was established in 2007.
What is the cost of dying and how has it changed?
The 'Cost of Dying' figure is the price of a basic funeral, plus extras like the send-off and professional fees.
In 2020, the cost of dying has reached an all-time high of £9,493. This marks a 3.1% increase in just one year – and a rise of 42% since we first started tracking the total cost of dying in 2007.
Why has the cost of dying risen so much?
One of the main reasons behind this price jump is the rising cost of a funeral, which now stands at £4,417 (+3.4% since 2018). That’s an increase of £2,497 since we began our research in 2004.
What costs the most?
The average cost of dying has gone up to an all-time high of £9,493. So it’s risen by £289 (+3.1%) since 2018, and 42% since 2007.
Funeral costs are rising
Average funeral costs have risen by 62% in the last decade. When you compare this to rises in other costs over the past ten years – like petrol prices, electricity prices, house prices and weekly wages – the difference is vast.
For example, if wages had risen in line with funeral costs, the average weekly wage would be £790 today. But they’ve actually only risen by 19.7% to £585.
Will funeral costs keep rising?
If funeral costs continue to rise at the same rate as the last 15 years, the average cost of dying could reach over £10,000 in just three years’ time.
2. Breakdown of funeral costs
Average funeral costs
At £4,417, the average cost of a basic funeral is up 3.4% since 2018, when it was £4,271 – that’s an all-time high. And since we first started our research in 2004, the average cost of a basic funeral has increased by 130%.
(£4,417 represents the mean average of the cost of a burial and the cost of a cremation in the UK.)
These basic funeral costs include the funeral directors’ fees (£2,687), doctors’ fees (£164), clergy/officiate fees (£169) and the burial or cremation fees.
Burial, cremation and direct cremation costs
In the UK in 2020, a burial is still the most expensive send-off and direct cremation is still the most affordable option. The cost of a direct cremation is also down from 2018.
|Funeral type||Average cost (2018)||Average cost (2019)||Change from 2018 to 2019|
In 2020, the average basic burial cost has risen by 3.7% to £4,975. And 23% of all funerals were burials, which is down 4% since 2018.The average cost of a basic burial has risen by 65% in the last decade.
In 2020, the average basic cremation cost has risen by 3% to £3,858. 77% of all funerals were cremations, which is up 4% since 2018. (And 2% of these were described as direct cremations.)
The average cost of a basic cremation has risen by 58% in the last decade.
Direct cremation costs
A direct cremation is a cremation with no funeral service. The remains are returned to loved ones to be kept or scattered, and they can throw a farewell ceremony at a later date if they wish.
In 2020, the average cost of a direct cremation fell by 5% to £1,626.
Other costs included in a basic funeral
The amount spent on professional fees (for hiring a professional to administer the estate) has gone down to £2,771 in 2020 (-3.5% since 2018). But these fees still make up 29.2% of the total cost of dying.
A typical send-off usually includes a memorial, catering, limo hire, venue hire, flowers, order sheets/service cards, the funeral notice and the death notice.
In 2020, average send-off costs have risen to £2,306. That’s up 11.9% since 2018 – a bigger percentage rise than funeral costs. They now make up 24% of the total cost of dying.
Funeral costs by region
Where you live can make a big difference to the cost of a funeral. This is because the average cost of burials varies hugely.
London is still the most expensive place to die, but its average basic funeral cost is rising at a much slower rate than other regions.
|Area in the UK||Average funeral cost (2019)||Change from 2018 (%)|
|South East & East||£4,881||+9.2%|
|Yorkshire & The Humber||£4,656||+4.4%|
|East & West Midlands||£4,582||+9.6%|
3. Challenges facing the funeral industry
What do funeral directors say?
We asked UK funeral directors what they consider to be the biggest challenges facing their industry in 2020. They said:
- Unregulated funeral directors. If they’re unregulated and unqualified, they can charge inflated prices.
- Rising funeral prices. This means people can’t afford the send-off they’d like.
- The press. Bad publicity is tarring all funeral directors with the same brush.
What's being done?
In March 2019, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) opened an inquiry into the funeral sector.
This may mean there will be more choice and transparency around prices for funeral services, so people will be able to make more informed decisions. And this could result in regulation.
Hopefully this will ensure funeral directors have professional qualifications and training from an accredited board.
Paying for a funeral: who's covering the cost?
Our report shows that 63% of people had put money aside for their funeral – up 1% since 2018. But only 64% of these people had put enough aside to cover the whole funeral.
This year, 69% of families had to pay for some or all of their relative’s funeral themselves. And for 12% of these families, finding the money to pay caused them notable financial problems. On average, they had to find £1,981 to cover the full cost.
How do people find the money to pay?
Paying for the funeral
Took money from savings or investments
Put the outstanding amount on a credit card
Borrowed the money from a friend or relative
Sold belongings to cover the cost
Borrowed money from a loan provider (for example, a bank)
Who should be paying?
When we asked people who should pay for a funeral, 70% said the deceased should pay, 22% felt family and friends should cover the costs, and 8% said it should be the government.
We also asked people if the government be doing more to help with funeral costs. 56% said yes, 26% said no, and 18% were unsure.
4. Our funeral wishes
Do we know what our loved ones want?
Only 1% of people knew all the deceased’s funeral wishes (the same as 2018). And 18% didn’t know any of their loved one’s funeral wishes when organising their funeral (-1% since 2018).
How do we know what our loved ones want?
Of the people who did know their loved one’s funeral preferences, 65% had been told face-to-face (+2% since 2018). 18% learnt about them from family and friends, while 17% read about them in their loved one’s will.
Are we planning ahead?
Organising a funeral made 60% of people start thinking about their own plans. But this is down from 61% in 2018, 65% in 2017, and 71% in 2016.
21% of those who said it made them think about their own plans admitted they haven’t done anything to prepare for their own funeral yet.
What kind of funeral do we want?
Over 4 in 10 (41%) people want their family to spend as little as possible on their funeral, with 13% wanting a direct cremation, and 11% wanting a woodland or eco funeral.
What do we want for our own funeral?
We asked people what kind of funeral service they’d like. The response seemed to be ‘the brighter, the better’, with 30% of people asking for bright clothes instead of the traditional black.
Attitudes are changing
Just like in 2018, traditional religious funerals are becoming less popular. 79% of funeral directors are seeing an increase in the number of celebration of life funerals, and 68% say they’ve seen a drop in the number of traditional religious funerals they organise.
According to these directors, funerals are becoming “less traditional” and “more relaxed”, with “much more personalisation”.
The UK's favourite funeral song
One of the easiest ways to see how funeral traditions are changing is by looking at the music.
The hymn ‘Abide With Me’ is most likely to be played at a funeral in the UK. But 47% of people said they’d prefer a modern song. ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman was the top pick.
However, only 26% of people make their music preferences known. This is a reminder that the more we talk about funerals with our loved ones, the more we’ll be able to give them the send-off they really want.
Latest press releases
Sep 7, 2018
Funeral costs spiral to £4,271 following annual rise of 4.7 but you can hold a funeral for less than half the priceRead the full press release here
Oct 9, 2017
Milk float hearses, banana skins coffins and guests in wellies - the trend for less formal, more personal funeralsRead the full press release here
Download the latest report
At SunLife, we've been tracking funeral costs for 15 years, so we have historical data from 2004 onwards. If you require any past reports, please get in touch with our media contact.Download the full PDF report
*Source – SunLife Continuous Research Programme, New Policyholders January – March 2020, based on a sample of 600 new policyholders.
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If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.
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