Families ‘struggling to pay for funerals’

Families are struggling to pay for funerals of loved ones killed by Covid as their own finances are stretched by the economic effects of the pandemic.

Average funeral costs have risen slightly in the UK, but this masks a widening gap in different parts of the country, a survey suggests.

The typical cost varies by more than £2,000, according to the Cost of Dying report by insurer SunLife.

It comes amid the largest rise in excess deaths in more than 70 years.

In 2020, nearly 697,000 deaths were registered, compared with an average of nearly 606,000 each year between 2015 and 2019.

This is the largest increase, or “excess”, in a single year since 1940, according to provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics.

“Many families have suffered the unexpected loss of loved ones and have been left struggling to cover the cost of the funeral no doubt made even harder because many households are already struggling with lower incomes as a result of the pandemic and restrictions,” said Justin Cole, director at SunLife.

The company’s report suggested the cost of a funeral in the South East of England had risen by 9.8% in the past year, to £5,007, while in Northern Ireland the cost dropped 7.4% to £3,222.

In London, the cost was the highest at £5,235. Other regions which recorded rising costs were in North West England, up 5.2% to £3,785, Scotland, which saw a 5.7% rise to £4,064, and the Midlands, up 3.9% to £4,488.

Unusual funeral requests
The report also highlighted some of the more unusual requests at funerals:

“My uncle had the theme song for the Channel 4 horse racing as it was his favourite thing to watch.”
“Everyone had to wear novelty jumpers.”
“There was a farmer that lived in his wellies. We cut the bottoms off and screwed them to the coffin so it looked like his feet were sticking out.”

Costs have risen in these areas, in part, owing to the rising cost of burials – the most expensive type of funeral.

However, the survey has found that the average cost across the UK increased at its slowest rate since costs were first tracked by SunLife in 2004.

Costs had fallen in North East England, South West England, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The report suggested that many people had opted for cheaper, simpler funerals while they were not permitted to hold the send-off they had wanted.

In 86% of cases, families said they had cut back on things they had wanted, including catering, limousines and venue hire, owing to coronavirus.

Last month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) told funeral directors and crematoria to make prices clearer and warned it may re-examine the issue of pricing after Covid.

However, after a two-year investigation into the market, it ruled out recommending price controls.