How to put a lid on a coffin's cost

Funerals can be expensive, but there are economical options.

Dying is a serious business. For many it is also becoming increasingly expensive. According to a recent survey by the Manchester Unity Friendly Society, the cost of burials has increased over the last three years by 38 per cent and cremations by 15 per cent. The average burial now costs pounds 1,523 and a cremation pounds l,024.

The basic costs of funerals can vary from region to region. It usually includes a basic coffin, a hearse, pall bearers, a car for the family, removal and storage of the body and the use of a chapel of rest. However, other items are usually omitted from the basic quote, such as the burial plot, cremation charges or the cost of digging the grave. Additional items such as a better quality coffin, extra care or a church service will also involve extra expense.

The survey found that a burial plot will typically cost between pounds 250 and pounds 400 but can be significantly higher. One London undertaker quoted between pounds 1,200 and pounds 2,775.

"Increasing competition between funeral providers means that many directors now quote an attractive low basic cost but then add on disbursements and extras to bring the expected costs up to such higher level," the survey says. "On average, these extra costs add 10 per cent to the costs of a basic funeral and 30 per cent to the costs of a cremation."

A number of organisations now offer pre-arranged funeral plans. Golden Charter offers four flexible funeral plans. The cheapest, the Standard Way, costs pounds 965, while the top of the range plan, the Golden Approach, retails at pounds 1,945. Alternatively, payment can be made over 60 instalments, in which case the costs rise to pounds 1,153 and pounds 2,329 respectively.

Additional services such as extra limousines, the cost of a church service or the expense of interring the ashes may be added to any of the plans. The cost of a burial plot is also not included.

The Office of Fair Trading last year published a report stating that greater regulation was required of funds paid into prepayment funeral plans. Those taking out such policies should satisfy themselves that adequate safeguards are in place.

Anyone receiving income support and responsible for arranging a funeral is eligible for a payment from the Government's Social Fund. This initial pounds 500 covers the cost of a coffin, a service, collection and care of the body and use of a hearse. Additional expenses such as a minister's services may be claimed. Funeral payments are usually made directly to the funeral director. The costs will, where possible, be recovered from the deceased's estate.

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