Funeral costs in the UK are as high as they have ever been. In its annual Cost of Dying Report (2018), insurance company SunLife reported the average amount paid for a basic funeral last year had reached £4,271.
The total cost of every basic funeral is made up of funeral director fees - which account for most of the final bill - disbursements or payments to doctors and an officiant, plus the cost of burial or cremation and the associated service.
SunLife's headline figure represents a combined average cost for both burials and cremations, factoring in the cost of burial or cremation, a coffin, funeral director services, and doctors' and celebrant fees. But at £4,798, the average cost of a burial is significantly higher than the average cost of a cremation - more than £1,000 less at £3,744.
Looking only at the direct costs, SunLife reports the average for a burial as almost three times more than the direct costs for a cremation, averaging £2,174 compared with £832.
Burial costs rising faster
Since SunLife started to track average funeral costs in 2004, the overall average has more than doubled. The increase in cremation costs is slightly lower at 116%, with burials up by 127%. That means over the last 15 years the average costs of a burial has risen from £2,112 to £4,798.
Over the last 10 years, burial costs have increased nationally by almost 80%, compared with just over 70% for cremation. But this national average hides significant variations in the cost of burials in various parts of the UK.
According to SunLife, the cost of a burial increased in 8 out of 10 regions in the UK last year. The biggest rise was in Scotland. Price drops were recorded in the East and West Midlands.
London is the most expense place in the UK to be buried with costs as high as £7,538, almost 60% above the national average. The least expensive place in the UK to be buried is Northern Ireland where the cost of a funeral with a burial is £3,240, almost a third lower than the national average.
Additional costs for burial
The discretionary costs associated with a funeral, including cars, flowers, venue hire and catering, are the same for burial or cremation. However, the cost of a memorial can add further to the final price of a burial. Sun Life reported the average spending on memorials at £824 in 2018.
The higher cost of burial accounts, at least in part for the steady decline in the number of burials in recent years in the UK, with more than 75% of all funerals in the UK in 2017 being cremation.
Factors of convenience - the flexibility to choose a final resting place - have also influenced the growing popularity of cremations. The decline in traditional funeral services, reported by 64% of funeral directors surveyed by Sun Life, has also played a part in the falling number of burials.
Equally, practical considerations, including a shortage of grave sites in some areas has also impacted burial numbers. More than 40% of the funeral directors surveyed for Sun Life's 2018 Cost of Dying report said there was a shortage of grave sites; the problem is particularly notable in London.
Shortage of space is believed to be a major factor in the increasing costs of burials, alongside cuts to local authority funding and reduced spending on cemetery upkeep.
The one area of growth for burials in the UK is in Woodland burials. Woodland or natural burial is seen as an environmentally friendly option to both traditional burial and cremation. From the first natural burial site opening in the early 90s in Carlisle, there are now more than 250 sites around the UK.
Woodland burial usually avoids the use of the chemicals used in embalming and generally require a biodegradable coffin. Headstones are swapped out for trees or flowers and often friends and family come to see the entire wood as the memorial for their loved one.
Despite a general fall in the number of burials in the UK, it is likely that the number of Woodland burials in the UK will rise as concern for the environment grows.
Planning ahead for your funeral lets you manage your funeral costs better. With the price of funerals rising every year for the last 15, having a pre-paid funeral plan can help protect you against future prices rises and save your family from financial stress at a very difficult time.
Find out more about how you can plan ahead for your funeral. Request a free, no obligation information pack or call 0808 169 4534.