Dean Lamble, Managing Director at SunLife: Our 9th annual Cost of Dying report actually reveals a slight fall in the overall cost of dying, bringing the figure down by £300 to £8,126. However, while the overall cost may have fallen, the cost of a basic funeral has risen for the 12th year in a row and now stands at £3,693, an increase of more than 90% since 2004.
This year’s report also reveals a 9.1% rise in discretionary costs or the ‘send-off’. Now standing at £2,000, the send-off makes up a quarter of the total cost of dying, and when you consider that 99% of us admit to not knowing the full preferences our loved ones would actually want, this rise is all the more significant.
None of us wants to put thousands of pounds towards a funeral, not knowing if the choices we have made are the right ones. So, in response to the findings, we have put together some online tools to enable people make their wishes known.
We are also working closely with Dying Matters - a charity which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement - to try and encourage people to break the taboo and start making plans for their end of life, so that everyone can have the perfect send off.
99 per cent of us admit to not knowing our loved ones’ complete send-off wishes, so it is vital we start talking about death to make sure we are not putting thousands of pounds towards the ‘wrong’ funeralDean Lamble, Managing Director, SunLife
The Cost of Dying is a sector-leading research paper, providing a credible and complete view of funeral costs over time. SunLife has been tracking changes in funeral costs since 2004, while the specific data set compared in the Cost of Dying report, was established in 2007.
This year’s report looks at trends in funeral costs as well as the benefits of discussing death and funeral wishes with loved ones.
The Cost of Dying report is established using two research methods:
- An online survey of 1,507 UK adults who were responsible for planning a funeral and administering an estate within the last four years.
- 100 telephone interviews of Funeral Directors from across the ten UK regions.
Changes to the average cost of a basic funeral
While the overall cost of dying has fallen this year, the average cost of a basic funeral has risen by 2.9% from £3,590 in 2014 to £3,693 in 2015. This figure is calculated by taking the combined average cost of cremations and a burials; the average cost of a burial in 2015 is £4,104, which is £822 more than the average cost of a cremation.
If funeral costs continue to rise at the same rate we have seen over the past decade, by 2020 the average funeral will cost £4,620.
How the cost of a basic funeral adds up
The cost of a basic funeral is calculated by adding together the funeral directors fees and disbursements, which includes the cremation or burial fee, doctor’s fees and clergy/officiate fees.
Funeral director’s fees
Funeral director’s fees, which usually cover the cost of the coffin, hearse, collection and care of the deceased plus the funeral director’s professional guidance, make up the majority of the cost of a basic funeral. This cost has seen a fairly modest rise of 1.8% over the past 12 months from £2,166 to £2,204.
Cremation and burial fees
After the funeral director’s fee, the second largest cost is the cremation or burial fee. In 2015, the average UK cremation fee is £688 - a 4% increase on last year - while the cost of a burial has risen by slightly more - 4.4% to £1,822.
The main reasons given by funeral directors for the rise in cremation and burial fees is 'cuts to local authority budgets’; in order to make up for some of the austerity measures placed on them, many local authorities have removed subsidies for burial and increased crematoria fees.
This year, doctor’s fees for certification have increased by 2.5% to £164; this is a rise of 19% over the past 8 years.
The average fee paid for a religious or secular service has increased by 7.6% from £141 in 2014 to £152 in 2015. In the UK, only the Church of England has specified fees other religious institutions recommend a donation.
Regional variation in the average cost of a basic funeral
This year, as has been the case every year we have run this report, The Cost of Dying has shown significant regional variations in funeral costs. London remains the most expensive place to die, with the average funeral costing £5,068, which is 37.2% more than the national average of £3,693.
The region where funeral costs are lowest, relatively, is Northern Ireland, where the cost of a basic funeral is £3,203, 13.3% lower than the national average and £1865 less than the cost of a funeral in the capital.
Changes to the amount spent on discretionary costs
This year’s report shows the amount spent on discretionary costs, which is in essence, the added extras that turn a funeral into a ‘send-off’, is £2,000; this is a 9.1% rise on 2014 and a 15% rise over the past five years.
The stand-out send-off cost – which, at £862 accounts for 43% of the total - is the cost of the memorial, which is a 12% rise on last year’s average spend. The next largest spend in ‘send-off’ costs is catering, which accounts for almost a fifth of the total, an average of £354, but this is actually down 5% on last year’s average catering cost of £373.
Regional variation in the cost of a ‘send-off’
The amount spent on discretionary costs varies significantly between regions. London is the most expensive region to pay for a send-off, with loved ones paying £2,881 on average. At the other end of the spectrum is Wales, where the amount spent on the send-off is a lot less - £1,405, which is £1476 less than in London and 30% less than the UK average of £2,000.
Finding the money to pay for funeral costs
This year, our research found that 59% of people had made specific financial provisions to pay for their funeral before they died; this is a slight increase on last year’s figure of 57%.
Of those, 84% had made sufficient provision to cover the entire cost. Over a quarter (27%) had bought a prepaid funeral plan – a marked rise on 2014, when less than a quarter (24%) had a prepaid funeral plan in place.
The 57% whose loved ones had either not made any financial provisions or not sufficient enough to cover all costs, had to find £2449 on average to cover the costs; this is an increase of 3.3% on last year’s figure of £2,371.
Of the 41% of people whose loved ones had made no financial provisions, one in six (17%) said that finding the money to cover the cost of the funeral had caused them ‘notable financial concerns’.
Of this group half (50%) had to borrow money, either from friends or relatives (21%), the bank or a loan provider (8%) or via a credit card (21%). One in seven (14%) said they had to sell belongings to cover the cost, while 17% were forced to work out a payment plan with the funeral director. 41% took money from their own savings or investments.
Loved ones’ wishes
In addition to the usual set of questions asked in the Cost of Dying report, this year, we also looked at the taboo surrounding talking about death.
Of those surveyed, just 1% knew all of the deceased funeral preferences; this means 99% of funerals may not be exactly as the deceased would have wished.
31% don't know if their loved ones would want to be buried or cremated
Almost a third (31%) had no idea if their loved one would have wanted a burial or cremation and seven out of ten (70%) didn’t know if the deceased wanted their ashes scattered, interred or disposed. Only one in seven knew which coffin to choose while almost two thirds did not know the deceased’s preferred cemetery or burial ground.
And when it came to the details of the service, more than half (53%) admitted that they did not know whether to hold a religious or non-religious service and almost three quarters (74%) that they did not know what music or readings to have at the funeral, while just one in ten knew what sort of wake to hold.
Only one in seven know which type of coffin to choose
Our own wishes
The research revealed that organising a funeral had prompted almost two thirds (64%) of people to start thinking about their own plans.
Of those who said it had made them think about their own plans, 70% had started to make some arrangements; 37% said they had written their Will, 17% had made a record of their wishes in writing and 46% had spoken to someone about their preferences.
However, almost a third (30%) admitted they had done ‘nothing yet’; the most common reason why being that it was something ‘they planned to do but hadn’t got around to yet’.
For one in six (16%), the reason they have done nothing about their own funeral plans is because they either don’t feel comfortable talking about death or don’t want to think about it.
One in six of us have made no funeral plans because we are uncomfortable talking about death
Our interviews have shown that people are still not comfortable talking about death or their funeral wishes, which means that the vast majority of those organising a funeral are unaware of the preferences of the deceased.
When you combine this with the fact that basic funeral inflation has risen for twelve years in a row with no signs of stopping, and the cost of a ‘send-off’ has risen sharply over the past 12 months, it is clear that it has never been more important to start talking about our own wishes.
We are in a situation where, on average, we are spending more than £2,000 to cover the costs of our loved ones’ funerals, but cannot be sure the send-off we have created is what that person would’ve wanted.
As a society we need to be more open about death. We need to talk about death and dying, and discuss our preferences and wishes freely because if we don’t, none of us will get the send-off we would have wanted.
About the Cost of Dying
SunLife owns the annual ‘Cost of Dying’ report which is one of the most significant pieces of ongoing research in its field. It has been conducted annually since 2004, using a consistent methodology to ensure data comparability over time.
The statistical regions used by the UK’s ONS (Office of National Statistics) comprise the Government Office Regions for England, plus Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These constitute 12 regions.
With the inclusion of Northern Ireland (to ensure UK coverage and not just GB), the following regions have been aggregated for research purposes to derive 10 regions:
- South East with East of England
- West Midlands and East Midlands
The research was therefore spread across the following regions:
- Region 1: Wales
- Region 2: South East and East of England
- Region 3: London
- Region 4: East and West Midlands
- Region 5: Yorkshire and the Humber
- Region 6: Scotland
- Region 7: South West England
- Region 8: North West England
- Region 9: North East England
- Region 10: Northern Ireland