Direct cremations were somewhat rare a few decades ago. However, they've soared in popularity recently, gaining some notable coverage a while back when David Bowie chose a direct no-frills cremation.
The Guardian reported that the cost of direct cremations rose dramatically after that, from around £1,000 to £4,000. But now, the cost of direct cremations has fallen back to their pre-Bowie's death averages and now stands at £1,647.
Increasingly, Brits are opting for no-frills, non-lavish funerals. A remarkable 98% of people surveyed by SunLife said they didn't want a lavish funeral, according to The Guardian. Plus, while only 47% of people had heard of direct cremation, their overall interest grew once they knew what it was.
Direct cremations, sometimes referred to as a simple cremation, may sound austere, and the idea of depriving the family of the opportunity to see the body won't appeal to everyone. However, they don't exclude the possibility of a separate ceremony, celebration or mourning.
Like other funerals, direct cremations can be paid for in advance using a prepaid plan.
So what are prepaid direct cremations, and what else do you need to know about them?
What are direct cremations?
Direct cremations are cremations with no ceremony, service or attendees.
The body is taken to the crematorium and cremated at a suitable time. The crematorium won't hold a service - it is the deceased's wish for there not to be a ceremony. Loved ones or families may receive the ashes and can do with them as they please.
Direct cremations are the cheapest form of cremation, but that isn't the only reason why they appeal to people. By detaching the cremation of the body itself with the ceremony, families and friends have an opportunity to celebrate the life or mourn the death of their loved one at a suitable time and location. Moreover, doing things this way opens up many more possibilities. For example, families and friends can organise their own events, if they wish to.
Catherine Powell, the co-founder of Pure Cremation, says those who choose direct cremations value the flexibility of how others say goodbye; "they want to choose the how, the where and the when".
Direct cremations have only minimal requirements. For example, Co-op Direct Cremations include the following:
- The cost of bringing the deceased into their care
- Transportation costs
- Preparing the body
- A basic coffin
- Doctor’s fees
- A minimalist scatter tube for the ashes
This is typical of most direct cremations. The aim is to cremate the body without a ceremony and deliver the ashes to the family if desired. This approach saves a vast amount of money compared to a religious or humanist ceremony with limousines, flowers, and everything else.
While direct cremations may seem austere and certainly aren't everyone's cup of tea, they don't 100% exclude the possibility of a ceremony. Instead, direct cremations merely ensure the ceremony is not part of the cremation process itself. This separates the two events, giving family and friends a chance to say goodbye how they wish.
Separate arrangements for a ceremony, such as the scattering of ashes, may be made before death. This was the case with Bowie, whose ashes were scattered in Bali.
Direct cremations offer this unique flexibility, separating the cremation from any voluntary ceremony arranged with or without the assistance of family and friends.
Why are direct cremations becoming so popular?
According to SunLife, historically, only 2% of UK funerals were direct cremations, equating to around 8,000 direct cremations each year. However, this has increased to 24%, partly due to Covid. SunLife also found that while 98% of people were not keen on having a full-blown, lavish funeral, only 47% had previously heard of direct cremation. However, once direct cremation was explained as an option, the numbers who would consider it jumped considerably.
Pure Cremation says there has been growth in the popularity of cremations. More people opt for the cheaper, no-frills, no-ceremony option than traditional religious or even humanist cremations with ceremonies. Opting for a direct cremation doesn't necessarily mean there is no separate ceremony, but this is down to the families, friends and other loved ones to decide.
Who are direct cremations suitable for?
Direction cremations are suitable for many people; Bowie proved they aren't just for those looking for a cost-effective funeral!
However, the cheap cost of prepaid funerals is a significant attraction. SunLife’s Cost of Dying Report states the average cost of prepaid direct cremations in the UK in 2021 was around £1,640, less than half the cost of a standard cremation with a ceremony, which is about £3,765.
Consider a direct cremation if:
- You want a no-frills, hassle-free funeral
- You are not interested in a ceremony for personal reasons
- Your family and loved ones would appreciate giving you a send-off or saying goodbye in a different way - an alternative celebration of life
- You’re looking for a cost-effective funeral
- You don’t want others to see your body once you pass away
Pre-paid direct cremation plans
Pre-paid direction cremation plans allow people to pay for their own direct cremation
Direct cremations are a cost-effective, no-fuss way to organise and pay for your cremation. This ensures the cremation process is taken care of before death, which takes the stress and hassle away from loved ones who would otherwise have to organise and pay for the funeral.
When you take out a prepaid direct cremation plan, you have the assurance that every aspect of your cremation is taken care of without needing intervention from others. The plan provider will hold your money in a trust, releasing the cash to pay for your direct cremation after your death.
People opt for a prepaid cremation to:
- Ensure funeral costs are met before death
- Alleviate the stress of having the family deal with funeral arrangements
- To ensure their wishes are met
With direct cremation, there are no mourners, no attendees to any service and no opportunities to see the body. This keeps costs down while ensuring the quality of the cremation, proper handling and care of the body, and doctor's fees. Some plans also include returning the ashes to the deceased's family, but this sometimes brings an additional cost.
It's worth mentioning that some direct prepaid cremations do offer a very small service. For example, Simplicity offers the 'Magnolia Plan' that includes a small minimalist funeral service with direct cremation.
How much do prepaid direct cremations cost?
Pre-paid direct cremations are the cheapest prepaid funeral plans around. They're much more affordable than a traditional funeral in the UK and less than half the price of standard cremations or burials.
This is primarily because there is no memorial service, which is one of the most expensive aspects of any funeral. Direct cremations remove the ceremony itself, whether religious or humanist, the cost of funeral cars, the hearse and the cost of seeing the body at the funeral director's Chapel of Rest or humanist equivalent.
According to SunLife’s Cost Of Dying Report:
|Type of funeral||2020||2021||Change|
|Average funeral cost||£4184||£4056||-3.1%|
As we can see, direct cremations tend to cost around £1,600.
Here are the costs of prepaid direct funerals at three of the leading prepaid funeral providers in the UK:
- Simplicity offers prepaid direct cremation plans that cost £1,495 if paid in a lump sum or in instalments within 12 months.
- Pure Cremation prepaid direct cremations cost £1,595 if paid for in one single payment. You can also spread payments for up to 60 months, which increases the price slightly.
- The Golden Charter 'Basic Plan', a direct cremation service, costs £1,749 or can be paid in instalments.
One consideration is whether or not third-party and cremation costs are guaranteed. Often, prepaid direct funeral plans offer an allowance for third-party expenses like doctor's fees. You'll usually be able to pay extra to have these costs guaranteed in case prices rise beyond your prepaid plan's allowance.
These guarantees only last a set number of years - in the case of Golden Charter's Basic Plan, you can pay £200 to guarantee costs for up to five years from when you pay for the plan. If you die after this period, the £200 will be added to your fees allowance.
If your allowance doesn’t cover third-party costs, these will have to be met by your family.
Whether or not there is a shortfall when you die depends on the price of cremations and associated third-party costs at the time.
Other plans are 100% guaranteed. This means that there should be no extra costs to be covered by the family or from the deceased's estate.
Hidden charges with prepaid direct cremations
Many funeral plan providers charge hidden fees that can eat into your third-party costs allowance.
Possible fees include:
- Collection out of hours
- Collection from homes or nursing homes
- Changing cremation location, e.g. if you move
- Returning the ashes to the family
Always request a full brochure or information pack from a provider before committing. Find out precisely what the plan covers and whether or not there are extra fees chargeable on top of the standard plan's features.
For example, Pure Cremation clearly states that their plan covers collection from anywhere in mainland England, Wales and Scotland, day and night.
Is my money safe in a prepaid funeral plan?
Pre-paid funeral plans hold your money in a ring-fenced trust. They are due to be fully regulated by the FCA in 2022.
All reputable plan providers will be part of the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA). While the FCA may not regulate the plan itself, the trust the plan money is held in can still be FCA regulated, but this is not certain to be the case.
Prepaid direct cremation plans
Pre-paid direct cremations are not just cost-effective; they offer a quick and fuss-free way to organise your funeral with minimal stress and hassle. They can also provide greater security and peace of mind compared to life insurance policies.
More providers are offering fully guaranteed direct cremation funeral plans. These include several payment options, including monthly payments. These provide a straightforward way to ensure your funeral is fully paid for and your family won't have to foot any shortfall.
Pre-paid funeral plans are likely to rise in popularity, but whether or not this also means they'll increase in cost is yet to be seen. Right now, direct cremations are cost-effective and less than half the price of cremation with a ceremony.