As living costs go up, the cost of dying also rises

Councils feeling the squeeze from funding cuts have started to impose above-inflation increases on burial and cremation fees, leaving grieving relatives facing bills of thousands of pounds, as Charlie Smith finds out

Monday, 9th April 2018, 11:24 am
Updated Monday, 9th April 2018, 11:41 am
Preston Crematorium offers some of the cheapest burial fees in the county, but in general burial and cremation costs are rising as local councils feel the pinch of funding cuts

It’s said that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. And it seems that the cost of both of those are rising in austerity Britain.

The squeeze on local council budgets has led to council tax rises, but also to an increase in the cost of dying – or at least the cost of funeral services.

The average cost of a funeral in the UK has more than doubled since 2004.

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In 2017 the average price of a funeral was £4,078 and this is predicted to rise to £4,944 by 2022.

A general increase in running costs and inflation accounts for some of the costs – including rising fuel costs and wage increases for workers.

But in order to manage costs, following government cuts, many Lancashire councils have hiked up the prices of elements of their funeral services.

In general, the overall cost of a funeral is made up half of funeral directors fees, and half of burial or cremation fees chanrged by councils.

Burial and cremation fees both saw increases above the rate of inflation in 2017, rising by 3.5 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively.

Some councils have even introduced fines for late-running funerals and out-of-town funerals.

From five local councils analysed, Wyre Council comes up more expensive overall than Chorley, Fylde, Blackpool or Preston.

For burials of stillborn babies and children under seven Wyre charges £174, and is the only local authority not to offer the service for free.

All the other local councils only charge for burials and cremations of people over 16 years of age.

Older people are among those affected by these price increases. Councillor Joan Burrows, who is Champion for Older People at Lancashire County Council said” it is “disappointing that burial and cremation costs have gone up, bearing in mind that councils are increasing taxes in other areas.”

Councillor Burrows also said “A lot of older people come from the generation where they don’t want to leave behind a lot of debt. This is yet another penalty that they are suffering.”

Alison Crake, President of the National Association of Funeral Directors said: “We do not feel that it is fair to exploit bereaved families who have little choice but to pay these fees.”

Age UK suggests that people who are worried about the cost of a funeral should either buy or pre-paid funeral plan, or take out life insurance to cover funeral costs.

Funeral costs are split into two bills. The funeral director’s bill is for the coffin, the hearse, limousines etc. The external bill to the council includes church fees, cemetary and crematorium costs, a notice in the paper, as well as extras like memorial plaques.

For the price of the exclusive right of burial – essentially buying a grave – Wyre also topped the list out of the five. They offer plots for 50 years at a price of £848.

By comparison, Chorley Council was cheapest on purchasing exclusive right of burial, offering 100 years at just £900.

For burial fees Wyre Council also comes top, at a cost of £733 per burial. The cheapest burial fee was Preston City Council’s at £496.

Adrian Phillips, Director of Environment at Preston City Council said: “Preston City Council is proud to deliver high quality cemetery and crematorium services, but does so within the mandate that these services are self-sustaining and not reliant on additional budget funding.”

Though Preston City Council increased charges by 5 per cent they claim costs “continue to be competitive across Lancashire.”

Adrian Phillips, Director of Environment at Preston City Council said: “Preston City Council is proud to deliver high quality cemetery and crematorium services, but does so within the mandate that these services are self-sustaining and not reliant on additional budget funding.”

For extra services helping preserve memories of loved ones, Preston City Council has the widest range on offer. Included in their price list are various memory cards and books, spaces in memorial gardens, plaques, caskets and tablets.

Preston City Council’s polyethylene memorial bench with plaque comes in at £800. Made from 90 per cent recycled material and crafted to resemble timber, it has little environmental impact.

Meanwhile, a wooden bench from Blackpool Council “in rose garden” will set you back £1,390.

Chorley Council again comes cheapest, offering a bench with plaque at just £600.

The most expensive single cost on any council’s funeral price list is Blackpool Council’s brick grave package at £2,555. This includes the right of burial, internment, permit for a headstone, and the building of a brick shell.

Pensions group Royal London commissioned a study on national funeral costs, which found the rise was far outstripping the rate on inflation.

Report author Simon Cox said: “The rising cost of an average UK funeral is very concerning; it’s outstripped inflation considerably for many years – almost in line with house price rises – which as we know continue to rise rapidly as demand outstrips supply.

“Our study shows people are striving to meet funeral price hikes, which they have little control over. Given the stressful situation, shopping around for a funeral is often not an option.

Instead people are coping by cutting back on non-essentials if possible, and reconsidering how loved ones are buried.

“Vulnerable bereaved people are taking on increased debt; and we predict this problem will worsen if steps are not taken to tackle the many, persistent causes driving up the cost of funerals.”