Whether you are receiving Universal Credit, managing a low income or struggling with debt, finding the money to pay for a funeral can be problematic for many families. Even when the deceased’s estate will eventually cover the cost, meeting the expenses upfront can sometimes be an issue when it comes to cashflow.
Fortunately, there are options available to help relatives meet the costs of a funeral in these situations.
In this guide, we find out what the figures are for a typical funeral in the UK and find out what financial assistance you can access to help meet these costs.
- What is the cost of a basic funeral?
- When does a funeral have to be paid for?
- What if the estate can cover the expense but the family can't pay up front?
- Is there a cheaper way to have a funeral?
- Who should pay for a funeral?
- How to get help paying for a funeral
- What happens if you can't afford to pay for a funeral?
- How can I keep the cost of a funeral down with a diy funeral?
What Is the Cost of a Basic Funeral?
According to the 2018 Sun Life Cost of Dying Report, the average amount of money spent for a basic funeral in the UK is £4,271. This figure includes:
- Costs of cremation or burial
- Funeral Director
- Doctor fees
- Minister/celebrant fees
In addition to the costs associated with a basic funeral service, an average of £2,061 is also spent for a ‘send-off’. This is the term given by the Sun Life to discretionary costs such as flowers, limousines, order of service cards, venue hire and catering for the wake and the fees paid for issuing death, memorial and funeral notices.
In total, this means the price of an average funeral including the costs of providing a loved one with the extras normally associated with such a service is £6,332.
When Does a Funeral Have to be Paid For?
With the exception of pre-paid funeral plans, most funeral directors will commence the arrangements of a service with a deposit. The balance is then usually settled soon after the funeral has taken place.
What if the Estate Can Cover the Expense of a Funeral but the Family Can’t Pay Up Front?
In many situations, the deceased may have enough money to cover the cost of a funeral but due to the process of probate taking several months, the funds may not be accessed for some time. In situations where families face a problem of cash flow, many banks will permit the expense of a funeral being deducted from the bank account of the deceased.
You will need to speak to the Executor(s) in order to find out if this is possible.
Is There a Cheaper Way to Have a Funeral?
Whilst the average cost of a basic funeral (with no extras) is £4,271, there are some big differences in the prices associated with the three main methods of disposition:
It is immediately apparent that there are significant savings which can be made when choosing the type of funeral with direct cremation being 64% lower in price than a burial (on average across the whole of the UK).
Who Should Pay For a Funeral?
If the deceased has made arrangements for their funeral via insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan then these policies or plans could pay out for any expenses associated with the cost of a funeral. However not all polices cover all aspects of a funeral and some prepaid funeral plans may not pay out at all if a minimum term of monthly payments has not been met.
If the deceased has enough money in their estate to cover the cost of a funeral then the Executor of the Estate will make arrangements to pay these fees. However, most costs must be paid up front and often well before the finances of the deceased have been settled.
In reality this will often mean that friends and/or relatives will need to pay for a funeral out of their own pockets even if the estate will refund them in the long term.
How to Get Help Paying for a Funeral
Even if you opt for a direct cremation and forego the discretionary extras such as flowers and limousines, the cost of a basic funeral service can be prohibitively expensive for many people to meet in the short term.
If you cannot afford the costs of a funeral then there are several options that you may wish to consider.
Funeral Expenses Payment
Previously known as a DWP Funeral Grant or Funeral Payment, this is an option for those people who are receiving some forms of benefit in order to help with funeral costs.
Claimants must either be the partner, close relative or friend of the deceased or, in the case of children, a parent.
Eligibility criteria is also based on what benefits and/or tax credits you (or the deceased) receive(d), namely:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Disability/severe disability element of Working Tax Credit
- Universal Credit
The payment will not cover the entirety of the funeral expenses but will provide some assistance with costs associated with:
- Death certificates and other documents.
- Cremation or burial fees.
- Travel expenses to and from the funeral.
- Moving the deceased within the UK if the funeral takes place more than 50 miles from place of death.
You will also receive up to £700 to help with other expenses including the coffin, funeral director and flowers.
It is important to note that the Funeral Expenses Payment will be deducted from any inheritance you are paid at a later date from the deceased’s estate.
Payment of the grant is made directly to you if you have already paid for the funeral otherwise it will be transferred directly to the funeral organiser (e.g. funeral director).
It is important to note that even with a maximum payment, this grant will not cover the entire cost of the average basic funeral in the UK. You may therefore have to meet some of the costs of the funeral expenses yourself.
In addition to the funeral expenses payments, you may be eligible for a Bereavement Support Payment from the government if your husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6th April 2017. The amount you will receive depends on your age and whether you have dependent children as well as if the deceased paid enough National Insurance contributions.
The standard rate of payment is a one-off figure of £2,500 followed by monthly payments of £100 for 18-months. The higher rate, which is usually paid to women who are pregnant or if you have dependent children, is paid out at £3,500 for the first month followed by monthly payments of £350 for 18 months.
Paying by Instalments
Some funeral directors will allow you to pay for the cost of a funeral by instalments. You should discuss this in advance of making any arrangements with a funeral home.
There are several charities in the UK who are able to offer financial support for bereaved families who are unable to meet the cost of paying for a funeral.
Eligibility criteria for accessing these funds vary for each charity with some providing assistance to children whilst others support people who come from certain professions or trades. Other benevolent funds may only be accessed within a certain geographical region.
The following charities may be able to offer financial aid or provide advice on other options available to you:
Armed Forces Benevolent Funds
If the deceased died whilst serving in the armed forces then you can seek help from the Veterans Gateway as the government may pay for some elements of the costs of a funeral.
- ABF The Soldiers Charity - A benevolent fund set up to provide grants to members (and former members) of the British Army plus their immediate dependants, the ABF helps around 4500 people each year who may find themselves in financial hardship. The ABF considers each application on an individual basis but they are unable to help with meeting the cost of memorials and headstones.
- RAF Benevolent Fund - Similarly to the ABF, the RAF Benevolent Fund provides financial support on an individual basis to the bereaved families of serving, or veteran, members of the RAF. As well as offering grants to support people with financial difficulties they can help with the application process for other grants which may be available, including any death-in-service benefits which may be applicable.
- The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust – This trust for Royal Navy personnel and their families can also offer assistance with funeral costs. Each year, the trust awards financial help to around 3000 families and paid out more than £181,000 in funeral grants during 2018. The RNBT considers all applications for funeral costs from its members on an individual basis.
For support from other benevolent funds that offer its members and/or their dependents financial assistance with funeral costs and other aspects of bereavement aid, see below:
- Nurses – The Junius S. Morgan Benevolent Fund
- Electronic, Energy and Electrical Industries – Electrical Industries Charity
- Public Transport Industry - Transport Benevolent Fund
- Fishing Industry – The Fishermen’s Mission
- Farming Industry - The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution
- Grocery Industry - Grocery Aid
- Alcoholic Beverages Industry – The Benevolent
- Retail Industry – The Retail Trust
What Happens If You Can’t Afford to Pay for a Funeral?
If you are unable to meet the costs of paying for a funeral altogether then your local council (or hospital if death occurred within an NHS Trust property) will pay, if:
- no relatives or friends are able to do so, and/or
- there is no money in the deceased’s estate to cover the costs.
A funeral of this nature is known as a Public Health Funeral and will usually be by cremation with very little ceremony. As the service is arranged by the authorities, they will decide where and when this happens and there are no extras such as notices in the local newspaper, flowers or cars. Mourners may still attend the service but will have no say in choices such as readings, music or officiant.
How Can I Keep The Cost of a Funeral Down with a DIY Funeral?
Despite the name, a DIY funeral simply means forgoing the use of a funeral director and undertaking the business of arranging a funeral yourself.
There is no law that requires you to use the services of a funeral director and you can save a good deal of money if you are prepared to organise the event yourself. And, even if you do use a funeral director, there are other ways you can reduce the cost of a funeral by making some key choices.
We’ve put together a summary list of the main expenses involved in organising a funeral with some suggestions about how to minimise these costs:
- Coffins – There is no law which means you must purchase a traditional wooden coffin and you can opt to use a simple shroud made from cotton. Combined with a supportive wooden base, these are more than suitable for use with both burials or cremations. You can even shop around online to order a coffin yourself. Cardboard, fabric, flat pack and wicker caskets are all relatively low-cost options.
- Embalming – This treatment is not always necessary and can be avoided if you speak to the mortuary or funeral home to opt for refrigeration instead.
- Transportation – There is no requirement for you to use a hearse when transporting a coffin. Other alternatives are available or you are at liberty to use a suitable vehicle of your own to do so. You can also follow the coffin in your own car and dispense with the need for formal limousines for the chief mourners.
- Floral tributes – When purchased from a florist for a funeral, flowers can become very expensive. Depending on the season, you could opt for hand-picked flowers or opt for single blooms instead of large arrangements.
- Officiants – Unless you are opting for a religious service, there is no reason why you cannot conduct the funeral service yourself or ask a family friend to do so.
- Order of service cards – Often printed at great expense on thick card, you could consider producing these yourself using a home computer and printer.
- Pall Bearers – Part of the costs of using a funeral director is the expense of paying for pall bearers to carry the coffin from the hearse (or other vehicle) to the crematorium, church or grave site. Again, there is no reason why you cannot have friends or relative perform this task.
- Wake – A post-funeral memorial service, or wake, can be held at home to keep the costs down or your local pub would be happy to host at no (or little) expense. If you are planning on catering then ask friends and relatives to provide the food.
- Memorial - If you choose a cremation then you can take your time to decide on a suitable memorial. With a burial site, many people like to have some form of plaque or headstone. Both of these can usually be organised well after the funeral and often paid for in instalments.
- Home burial is also an option that some people may wish to consider in order to reduce the costs of a funeral. You do not need any planning permission to do so but you will have to satisfy several legal requirements including notifying the owners of the land, digging the correct depth of grave and keeping a burial register. This method is not for everyone but you can find out more from the Natural Death Centre if you are considering this.
Lastly, if your budget is a concern then we would always recommend shopping around for these services and do consider getting a few prices from other funeral directors. Following a death, it is understandable that families prefer not to get involved with the minutiae of funeral arrangements but if you can delegate some of these tasks to other friends and relatives to share the load then this can be made less onerous.