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Cost of dying reaches record high in UK, new report reveals

Average cost of dying has soared to just under £10,000, SunLife’s annual report shows

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Monday 15 January 2024 00:04 GMT
Soaring living costs have even impacting the amount people have to pay for funerals
Soaring living costs have even impacting the amount people have to pay for funerals (Getty)

The cost of dying has reached a record high in the UK as Britons struggle to afford to bury their loved ones amid soaring bills.

According to SunLife’s annual report looking at the growing expenses for the bereaved, the average cost has soared to £9,658. This figure, which includes the price of a funeral, professional fees and other send-off costs, is the highest in the 20 years SunLife has been tracking them.

A basic funeral in the UK, which includes a burial or cremation, all funeral director fees, a mid-range coffin, one funeral limousine, as well as doctor and celebrant fees, have increased to £4,141 from £3,953 last year.

A hike in send-off costs to £2,768 and in professional fees to £2,749 means the overall cost of dying is up £458 year on year.

Since the first Cost of Dying report in 2004, the cost of a basic funeral has increased 126 per cent (SunLife Cost of Dying Report)

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The report finds that 59 per cent of people have been forced to cut back on certain aspects of the funeral to keep expenses low amid the cost of living crisis. Just under 20 per cent of people said they spent less on flowers for their loved ones, while others chose a cheaper coffin or had a home wake.

The pressure of rising funeral costs has left one in five families experiencing “notable financial concerns”.

Map shows cost of dying per region in the UK (SunLife Cost of Dying Report)

Among these, three-quarters of people reported that paying for the funeral impacted their mental health, and two-thirds experienced an impact on their physical health.

Susan Bradley, a full-time carer from Birmingham, was faced with financial difficulty when both her mother and sister passed away within a space of 10 months.

The 51-year-old described feeling “overwhelmed” by the costly reality of losing a loved one, and was forced to postpone paying her credit card bills to scrape together enough for the funerals.

Susan Bradley lost both her mother, Carole Bradley (L) and Jemma Bradley (R) in the space of ten months (Supplied )

Lindesay Mace, co-manager of Quaker Social Action’s funeral poverty project Down to Earth, worked with SunLife to ensure the inclusion of the questions on wellbeing in the report and says that the new data backs up what campaigners have been saying for a decade.

“Bereaved people on middle and lower incomes across the UK face unaffordable funeral prices, and the stress this causes can impact their ability to grieve and take a toll on their mental and physical health. The government are legally bound to protect people’s right to health, but they are failing bereaved people at their time of need.

“On average, government funeral payments across the UK cover less than 50 per cent of the cost of a basic funeral and must be increased. It is also crucial that the eligibility criteria are expanded, particularly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where around 40 per cent fewer people are able to access this help than in Scotland.”

Flowers are one area where people have cut back (Getty/iStock)

Ms Mace added that it is “worrying” to see that one in 10 people felt pressured by their funeral director to spend more money than they wanted.

She said: “The impact on the health and wellbeing of people struggling with funeral costs, as seen in the report, is stark and if these people are pressured in this way, it will have devastating consequences for those bereaved people and result in bad debt for funeral directors.”

Mark Screeton, CEO at SunLife said: “This year’s Cost of Dying report – our 20th edition – shows just how high costs have become over the past 20 years.

“Even though costs actually fell in 2021 and 2022 (in part, due to the pandemic) the cost of a basic funeral has increased 126 per cent since 2004 – far higher than the rate of inflation over the same period.

“Combine this with the fact that most people do not leave enough money behind to pay for their own funeral and it is understandable that so many families across the UK are struggling to cover the cost.”

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