More than 90,000 more people died last year than the average for the previous four. That stark fact hides 90,000 funerals, hundreds of thousands of mourners, and tens of millions of pounds spent on funerals.
Over 25,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK have reportedly been people under 75. With life expectancy at nearly 82 years old, that’s a lot more funerals happening much earlier than expected, adding an unexpected expense at a financially precarious time.
Are funerals costing more because of the pandemic, or are more people realising how expensive is it when a loved one dies? We’ve looked into the facts and figures and talked with some experts to understand the cost of funerals during the pandemic.
Have funeral costs increased in the last year?
The average cost of a funeral in 2020 was £4,184 according to an annual SunLife report. That’s not the type of figure most of us have kicking around, particularly after nearly a year of life on furlough or Universal Credit.
That price has risen by 1.7% across the UK since 2019, but it’s not across the board. Some regions saw a drop in the price of burials and cremations:
- Northern Ireland -7.8%
- Yorkshire and Humber -3.6%
- South West England -2.4%
- North East England -1.8%
The most significant increase was in the South and South East of England, where costs rose an average of 9.8%.
Although the price of dying has gone up year-on-year, the rise in 2020 was lower than price changes in the previous three years, where the average increase was a little over 4%.
Although we can’t say that Covid-19 has caused funerals to get much more expensive on average, there have been changes in funeral expenses. Let’s break that down.
Burial and cremation fees
The majority of burial grounds and crematoria suspended planned price increases for 2020. This helped keep costs low, with the average fee for a cremation £700-1,000 and a burial plot averaging £1,857 with prices more than double that in some parts of London.
Costs to store a body
Many more people are dying than would typically be expected, so has there been a change in storage costs? A body is typically kept refrigerated; I was curious whether longer storage times might be a factor in any cost increases.
“Funeral directors’ charges are based on caring for someone who has died from the date they bring the person into their care until the day of the funeral. There are not normally any additional charges for [extended storage]… and funerals have generally been able to happen within a few weeks of the date of death,” said a spokesperson for the National Association of Funeral Directors.
Flowers, cars, and celebrants
Due to social distancing rules, funerals have had to become much simpler affairs. Every crematorium, burial ground, and venue have had to put caps on the number of mourners with sometimes only four people allowed to attend.
This means there are fewer cars needed to be hired and probably less need to buy expensive wreaths. Interestingly, in 2020, 11% more people chose a direct cremation for their loved one. This cuts out the need for a celebrant – it doesn't include any formal service. The price for this type of funeral dropped more than 4% from 2020 to £1,554.
Funeral director fees
It’s easy to think that a funeral director could raise their fees during a pandemic and take advantage of the situation. In fact, there has been a decline in the fees charged by funeral directors in 2020, a drop of 8% to £2,547.
In normal times, a cremation certificate needs to be certified by two doctors at the cost of £65 per doctor. Because of the pandemic, the government changed this requirement in the Coronavirus Act so that only one signature is currently required. Although a small amount, every bit can help and families are presently saving £65 on that second signature.
“For some families, while the kind of funeral they can arrange might be more limited, creating something meaningful and personalised remains important,” explained the NFAD representative. Extras like performing musicians or specialist companies to live stream the even are adding to funeral costs.
The cost of the send-off – catering the wake, the headstone or plaque, order sheets – all go into the price of a funeral. This is where there have been significant rises. From 2019 to 2020, these costs jumped 9.8%, making up the bulk of the increases seen in some parts of the country.
Why does it feel like funerals are costing more?
For swathes of the country, money has been tight. The economy shrank by a whopping 8.2% between February and September. More than 10 million of us were furloughed by the end of last year.
Money’s been tight. Getting hit with a funeral bill in the thousands of pounds when it was least expected has been a blow. Since we’re not so inclined to talk about death and few of us have a funeral plan, the costs seem shocking.
General concerns on the cost of funerals remain. The Competition and Markets Authority said in a recent report that although they were ruling out price caps due to the pandemic, there could be another investigation into the industry once normality returns.
Has Covid-19 made funeral more expensive?
Funerals cost a lot of money; we can’t get away from that. It’s not like we can stop people dying, especially during a pandemic, and plenty of people have been saddled with costs they can ill-afford, making services seem even more expensive.
When you dig into the details, the rate of increase in costs has actually slowed. This is likely due to funeral facilities not increasing their prices last year and a drop in the professional fees charged. Has this stacked up extra-large increases for once the pandemic is over? We look forward to next year's Cost of Dying Report to find out.