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Welcome to the SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2021

8 min read

At SunLife, we’ve been researching funeral costs since 2004. Every year since, we’ve watched these costs go up and up – and 2021 is no exception.

How much does a funeral cost in the UK today?

Once again, we’ve seen a rise in the average cost of dying. It’s now the highest it’s ever been, at £9,263 (+0.8% since 2019).

However, this is a small rise compared to previous years. In fact, this year's increase is the lowest we’ve seen since our research began in 2004.

In the report, we look at how funerals have changed this year – including the impact of COVID-19, the types of funerals being chosen and the changing trends in funerals.

We’ve also included tips and advice on cutting costs and organising a funeral, from both funeral directors and the general public.

Want to know more? Scroll down to see some key take-outs from the 2021 report, or download it in full here.

Our new methodology

We’ve made some changes to how we calculate the average cost of a funeral. Our average funeral cost is now weighted by the percentage of burials and cremations in the UK.

To give a consistent comparison of funeral costs over time, we’ve updated the previous years’ figures to reflect this change in our calculation. See our report for more detail.

1. The cost of dying explained

What is the cost of dying and how has it changed?

The ‘cost of dying’ figure is the total cost of a person’s funeral – including professional fees, the funeral service, and optional extras like the wake or gathering.

Our latest research has seen the cost of dying reach an all-time high of £9,263. That’s 0.8% up since the previous year, and a rise of 39% in the last decade.

The cost of dying

(This includes the funeral, plus professional fees and send-off costs)

2020 - £9,263

2019 - £9,192

+0.8% How much the cost of dying has risen between 2019 and 2020

Why has the cost of dying risen so much?

The main reason why the cost of dying is so high is a rise in funeral costs. A basic funeral in the UK now costs £4,184 on average, which makes up 45.2% of the total cost of dying.

2. Funeral costs in the UK

How much does a basic funeral cost?

As we’ve just seen, the average cost of a basic funeral is higher than ever before. At £4,184, it’s up 1.7% since 2019 – and up 128% since 2004.1

Basic funeral costs include the fees for the cremation or burial, doctor, funeral director, and minister or celebrant.

It usually includes the cost of the medical certificate needed when someone dies, but this has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.

The cost of a basic funeral

2020 - £4,184

2019 - £4,115

+1.7% How much the cost of a basic funeral has risen between 2019 and 2020

How much does a burial, cremation and direct cremation cost?

While the average cost of a basic UK funeral is at an all-time high, it’s actually even higher when we look at the cost of a basic funeral with a burial – £5,033. That’s up by 1.2% in the last year.

With a cremation, the average basic funeral costs £3,885 (up 0.7%). And with a direct cremation, a basic funeral costs just £1,554 – down 4.4% since 2019.

2020 average funeral cost: £4,184 (+1.7%) 2019 average funeral cost: £4,115
Burial: £5,033 (+1.2%) Burial: £4,975
Cremation: £3,885 (+0.7%) Cremation: £3,858
Direct cremation: £1,554 (-4.4%) Direct cremation: £1,626

Other costs included in a basic funeral

There are other costs that can make up the cost of a funeral

Professional fees

One of the most dramatic changes this year is the fall in professional fees, which have gone down 8.1% since 2019 – but they still make up 27.5% of the total cost of dying.

Send-off costs

A send-off is the added optional extras that can make a funeral more personal to the deceased and their loved ones. It usually includes things like a memorial, catering, limo hire, venue hire and flowers.

Just like in 2019, send-off costs went up the most – this time with a 9.8% rise to £2,532. They now make up 27.3% of the total cost of dying.

Funeral costs by UK regions

Where you live can make a big difference to the average cost of a basic funeral.

London is still the most expensive place to die, but the South East & East of England saw the biggest rise in costs (+9.8%).

Once again, Northern Ireland is the most affordable place to die, with average funeral costs 23% below the national average.

The most expensive places to die
London £5,235 (+3.4%)
South East & East England £5,007 (+9.8%)
East and West Midlands £4,488 (+3.9%)
Yorkshire and the Humber £4,270 (-3.6%)

The most affordable places to die
Northern Ireland £3,222 (-7.4%)
Wales £3,718 (+0.4%)
North West England £3,785 (+5.2%)
North east England £3,826 (-1.8%)

3. The future of funerals

How much will funerals cost in the future?

If the cost of a basic funeral rises at the same rate as it has since 2004, we project the average cost of a funeral could reach £5,044 in five years’ time. However, the rate of increase appears to be slowing down.

Funeral costs since 2004 (projected from 2021 until 2025)

£1,835

2004

£1,884

2005

£2,081

2006

£2,288

2007

£2,432

2008

£2,600

2009

£2,713

2010

£2,910

2011

£3,079

2012

£3,225

2013

£3,363

2014

£3,454

2015

£3,649

2016

£3,837

2017

£4,029

2018

£4,115

2019

£4,184

2020

£4,427

2021

£4,581

2022

£4,735

2023

£4,890

2024

£5,044

2025

What type of funeral are people choosing?

59% of funerals in 2020 were cremations, making it the most popular choice. 26% were burials, and 14% were direct cremations.

However, the number of direct cremations increased by 11% during February to July, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

graph 1.
  • Cremations saw a decrease of 3% between 2019-2020 and February to July 2020 (during lockdown) 59% vs 48.5% (-3%).
  • Burials saw an increase of 3% between 2019-2020 and February to July 2020 (during lockdown) 26% vs 26.5% (+3%).
  • Direct cremations saw an increase of 11% between 2019-2020 and February to July 2020 (during lockdown) 14% vs 25% (+11%).

Find out more about direct cremations on page 19 of our report.

4. Funerals and COVID-19

Saying goodbye during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made saying goodbye to our loved ones especially hard.

24% of people who organised a funeral between February and July 2020 describe the death of their loved one as COVID-19-related.

82% said the funeral they organised was affected a lot by COVID-19, with 71% also saying that not everyone who wanted to attend the funeral could.

82% said the funeral they organised was affected a lot by COVID-19

82%


33% described the funeral they organised as a direct cremation

33%


71% said that not everyone who wanted to attend the funeral could, due to social distancing guidelines

71%


86% said there were things they couldn't do or had to cut back on - most commonly catering, limousines and venue hire

86%


34% said the funeral caused them notable financial concerns

34%

How is the funeral industry coping?

Almost all funeral directors (97%) say they’ve been affected by the pandemic, but only 54% say they’ve felt supported by the government.

We asked them what the difficulties of organising a funeral during a pandemic are. The most common answers were:

  • Government legislation resulting in families not being able to grieve together
  • Misleading and disorganised guidance for funeral directors
  • Not being able to support bereaved families face-to-face

COVID-19 and the future of funerals

When we asked funeral directors how they think the COVID-19 pandemic will affect funerals in the future, they said:

  • Job losses will mean people opt for simpler funerals
  • Paperwork will go digital, as it’s more hygienic and efficient
  • Direct cremations will continue to gain popularity

5. Paying for a funeral

How are we paying?

65% of people made provisions specifically to pay for their funeral – up by 2% since 2019. But only 66% of these people put enough aside to cover the whole cost of their funeral.

Of the families who had to make up the shortfall, 14% said the funeral caused them notable financial problems.

38% of these people used money from savings or investments to cover funeral costs. 25% used a credit card, and another 25% borrowed money from someone they knew.

2020 average funeral cost: £4,184 (+1.7%) 2019 2020
Took money from savings or investments 30% 38%
Putting the outstanding amount on a credit card 25% 25%
Borrowed money from a friend/relative 22% 25%
Paid the funeral director in instalments 16% 16%
Sold belongings to cover the cost 15% 17%
Borrowed money from a loan provider (e.g. a bank) 10% 13%
Applied for a subsidy from government or local authority (Funeral Payment Expenses) 8% 9%
Other 12% 6%
Can't remember 5% 3%

Exploring options

81% of people organising a funeral got either no quote, or just one quote from a funeral director.

This shows that some people may not know that you don’t have to go with the funeral director named by your loved one. You can still shop around for more affordable options.

How you can cover funeral costs

With funeral prices at their highest point ever, the cost can come as a huge shock.

1 in 4 people said certain costs took them by surprise. So it could be worth putting financial plans in place today, such as over 50s life insurance or a funeral plan.

If you find yourself struggling to pay for a funeral, you can read our Help with funeral costs article for more guidance.

Cutting costs: tips and advice

53% of people tried to cut back and keep funeral costs down in 2020, with 8% saying they felt they spent money they didn’t need to.

When we asked for tips on how to cut funeral costs, funeral directors and people who had organised a send-off gave similar advice:

  • Choose a cheaper coffin
  • Spend less on flowers
  • Have the wake at home (if possible)
  • Opt for a cremation or direct cremation

Where did they cut costs? 2019 2020
Chose a cheaper coffin 20% 18%
Spent less on flowers 17% 15%
Had a home wake 12% 14%
Didn't use a hearse/limousine 10% 11%
Chose not to embalm 13% 10%
Shopped around for the best price 10% 10%
Did not use order or service cards 9% 9%
Chose a direct cremation 5% 7%
Chose a cheaper cremation time 4% 5%
Asked the funeral director to use fewer pall bearers 3% 4%

6. Planning a funeral

Funerals have changed a lot in the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give our loved ones a personal, appropriate send-off.

Start the conversation about funerals

A good way to take some of the pressure out of organising a funeral is to talk about what your loved ones want. That way, we can give them the send-off they deserve.

Find out what your family want

It can be hard to talk about death and funerals with our loved ones.

In 2020, less than 1% of people knew all their loved ones’ funeral wishes – and 17% didn’t know any of their wishes at all.

Of those who knew their wishes, 65% had been told face-to-face, 18% were told by family and friends, and 17% found out from the will.

What do we know about our loved ones' funeral wishes? 2019 2020
Whether their loved one wanted a burial or a cremation 58% 55%
If they wanted a religious or non-religious service 38% 41%
The location of their preferred cemetery or burial-ground 30% 32%
Whether they wanted their ashes scattered, interred or disposed 28% 29%
Their preferred funeral director 26% 27%
Who they wanted to arrange the funeral 26% 14%
Their preference for any music/readings 25% 26%
Their preferred charity for donation 24% 22%
Which type of coffin or casket (e.g. wood, wicker, cardboard) 13% 16%
Who to invite to the funeral 12% 14%
Their preferred venue for the wake or post-funeral gathering 12% 12%
What type of flowers they wanted 11% 13%
No, I did not know any of the preferences 17% 17%

Tell your family what you want

62% of people who organised a funeral recently said they’ve started to think about their own. However, only 38% of these people have made a will. With the cost of dying higher than ever, and with COVID-19 changing how we say goodbye to our loved ones, it’s important to talk about our funeral wishes – and to get a financial plan in place, whether it’s a funeral plan, life insurance or savings.

Attitudes continue to change

Following on from 2019, the celebration of life trend continued into 2020. In fact, exactly half of all funeral services were described as a celebration of life – up 4%.

What changes are funeral directors seeing?

80% of funeral directors also saw an increase in this more upbeat type of send-off, with 63% saying they saw a drop in the number of religious services.

The nation’s favourite funeral songs

Only 26% of people tell their loved ones which songs they want played at their funeral.

Perhaps this is why ‘Amazing Grace’ was the most popular song to be played at a funeral in 2020. But when we asked people what song they’d like at their send-off, the number one choice was ‘Always Look On the Bright Side of Life’.

So don’t be shy – ask your family what music they’d like at their funeral, and tell them what you’d like at yours. It’s a really simple way to make a send-off more personal.

What are the latest funeral trends?

89% of funeral directors noticed some key trends in 2020.

The most common is that people are using social media sites like Facebook to invite people to the service.

They also said that funerals are becoming more tailored to the individual, with special requests, personalised transport and unusual venues.

Others also pointed out that more people are choosing simpler, affordable send-offs like a direct cremation.

49%

49% of funeral directors said the biggest change they saw in 2020 was the use of social media invitations in place of newspaper notices.

46%

46% of funeral directors said they saw a change in 2020 focusing on theme, personalisations and special requests.

41%

41% of funeral directors said they saw a change in 2020 focusing on music and readings.

38%

38% of funeral directors said they saw a change in 2020 focusing on the cost of the funeral.

21%

21% of funeral directors said they saw a change in 2020 focusing on the attendees.

11%

11% of funeral directors said they saw no changes or trends in 2020.

What are the challenges facing the funeral industry?

41% of funeral directors said COVID-19 had an impact on the funeral industry, as they “must keep adapting and changing”.

But the pandemic isn’t the only challenge the industry is facing. We asked funeral directors what they consider to be the biggest problems right now:

  • Unregulated funeral directors
  • More competition
  • Rising costs
  • Lack of transparency
  • Lack of government support

Related articles

How to get help with funeral costs

Read the full article here

Sep 10, 2020


How to arrange a funeral

Read the full article here

May 21, 2019


Download the latest report

At SunLife, we've been tracking funeral costs for 16 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

1Our average funeral cost is now weighted by the proportion of burials and cremations in the UK. We’ve updated the previous years’ figures to reflect this change in our calculation.