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Online crowdfunding for funerals rise by third in a year: 'We had to beg for money to bury mum'

Exclusive: Number of people appealing to public to fund loved one’s funerals up by a third in the space of a year

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 17 May 2018 11:20 BST
Daisy as a child with her mother Nicole Wilkins, who passed away aged 49
Daisy as a child with her mother Nicole Wilkins, who passed away aged 49 (Daisy Reeves)

Within days of Daisy Haynes’s mother passing away last year at the age of 49, the only thing she could think was – how will the family pay for her funeral?

She says: “I just laid staring at the ceiling until three or four in the morning trying to figure out how to pay for it. There were no other family members who could help.”

Before she died her mother, Nicole Wilkins, had become severely depressed after the death of her husband six months earlier. She had next to no money when she died and had not taken out life insurance, so there were no funds to help fund her burial.

“Once we realised she had no life insurance, we tried to find out if we were eligible for some support – a funeral grant or something,” says Daisy. ”But because we all work, we weren’t eligible for anything.“

The self-employed illustrator was quoted almost £5,000 by the first funeral company. For that, they would simply transport her mother’s body to the ceremony.

“We couldn’t afford it, and every door we tried to ask for help was slammed back in our faces,” she says. “I was thinking I’d have to use my rent to pay for it.”

She is one of many bereaved relatives who have been forced to publicly appeal for funds to bury or cremate their loved ones.

​Figures passed to The Independent by GoFundMe show that new campaigns to raise money for funerals have increased by around a third in the past year.

The fundraising website is currently running more than 100 campaigns for people who explicitly say they cannot afford to pay for a funeral.

Separate figures from the Down to Earth support line, which provides practical support for those struggling with costs, shows the number of people supported by their helpline team has trebled since 2015.

Last year the group helped 978 people, compared with 302 two years before.

Eventually, Daisy’s family were forced to go to extremes to bury their mother – selling valuables, taking out loans and launching a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe.

“My brother got out a loan from his employer,” she says. “We sold anything of any value in their house. Everything we could sell, we sold. I started a crowdfunding page.

“To start with, I didn’t tell my siblings about this. We’re from a working class family and we’re proud people, so the thought of us having to go begging to friends for money was very difficult.”

Funeral prices are rising at almost treble the rate of house prices, with the cost standing at £4,078 in September last year – up 4.7 per cent on the previous 12 months and up twofold since 2004.

As a result, families have been forced to opt for cheaper coffins and have held wakes at home to combat the rising prices.

Many have actively cut back on certain aspects of the funeral to keep costs down.

Every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to make arrangements for ‘pauper’s’ funerals, which occur when a person dies and their family is unable to be traced or, sometimes, when the family is unable to pay.

But these are heavily means tested and applicants must pass a rigorous vetting process.

The government also provides funeral expenses payments, which can help pay for burial fees, cremation fees, travel to arrange or go to the funeral, and death certificates or other documents. But these funds are also granted on a means tested basis, meaning people must receive certain benefits or tax credits to be eligible.

Julie Dunk, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, which observes standards of burial and cremation authorities, says there has been a rise in people opting to carry out funerals themselves.

“We’ve seen a rise in the number of direct cremations, where there’s a cremation but no funeral service, and then the ashes are given to the family and they can have their own memorial service,” she tells The Independent. “You can now buy coffins directly off the internet, so a lot of people are doing the funeral arrangement part of it themselves.

“Rather than asking a funeral director to collect the deceased and provide the coffin and the hearse, families may collect the deceased themselves or look after them at home – provide a coffin, provide transport to the crematorium. At a time when you’re distressed and grieving, it’s not easy.”

A government spokesperson said: “Funeral expenses payments provide an important contribution towards funeral costs, and we recently made it easier to claim. In cases when it’s not possible for a family to organise a funeral, local authorities can make arrangements.”

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