The “cost of dying” is rising faster than inflation, with typical cremation and burial fees jumping by at least 5% in a year, and some locations seeing increases of up to 68%. That’s just one of the findings of a study which also reveals that it’s not just houses and pints of beer that cost more in London than anywhere else in the UK – it’s also the most expensive place to be buried. These increases will put even more of a squeeze on the budgets of the bereaved, some of whom will struggle to meet the bills.
However, there are ways you can cut costs, ranging from using a natural burial ground (or even your back garden) to opting for a low-cost eco-coffin such as a cardboard one at £99 (see below).
The study, by independent comparison service Funeralbooker, names Highgate cemetery in north London – whose most famous “resident” is Karl Marx, and where singer George Michael was buried in March – as the priciest final resting place, with a burial fee of £18,325. By contrast, at Cross Cemetery in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, it is £261 – just a 70th of that amount.
“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” goes the saying, and cremation and burial fees are the ultimate “death tax” in that, barring a small number of cases, they are effectively an unavoidable cost. These fees also exclude the services of a funeral director and other costs such as a coffin, flowers and transportation.
Funeralbooker has analysed prices across 282 crematoria and 951 cemeteries that are still open for new burials, and found families are this year being forced to shell out an average of £753 in fees for a cremation, while burial fees – which include the plot and interment (the digging fee) – now average £1,792. These are up 5% and 13% respectively on last year’s £716 and £1,579.
There are, of course, wide regional variations. The 10 most expensive places are all in London, with Highgate topping the list. Its total cost of £18,325 is made up of £16,475 for the plot and £1,850 for digging. Michael was buried in Highgate’s West Cemetery near his mother, Lesley, after he died at home in Oxfordshire on Christmas Day last year. He is guaranteed a fair degree of privacy: admission to the West Cemetery is by guided tour only, and the former Wham! singer’s grave is specifically excluded from the route. Marx is in the East cemetery which is open to the public.
In joint second place in the costliest top 10 were Hammersmith and Fulham’s two local authority cemeteries at £12,464, with Kensal Green third at £12,225. The average for London was £3,806 – more than double the UK average.
The 10 cheapest places to be buried are all in Northern Ireland, with three cemeteries in the Fermanagh and Omagh district council area charging £261 – £143 for the plot and £118 for interment. Be aware that these costs are based on an adult resident of the borough – ie, non-residents will often pay a lot more.
Around seven in 10 people in the UK are cremated, and there was a fair bit of variation in costs here too. Several of funeral provider Dignity’s crematoria charge £999, more than double the £490 charged by South West Middlesex Crematorium in Feltham, west London.
But following the death of David Bowie last year, there has been growing interest in “direct cremations”, a cheaper, no-frills option. It was widely reported that Bowie, who died of liver cancer in January 2016, was secretly cremated without any of his family or friends present after telling his loved ones he did not want a funeral service (his ashes were scattered in Bali).
Most crematoria will now facilitate a direct cremation which, in their most basic form, are – to put it bluntly – a “disposal service”. They can cost from around £650-£750 upwards, says Funeralbooker, and that price typically includes a simple coffin. For example, BB Funerals in Barnet, north London, charges £499 plus a £280 cremation fee and £100 for the return of the ashes, while Newbury-based Pure Cremation charges from £1,095.
In some cases, if the death has not been referred to a coroner there is an additional charge for cremation, usually £164, to pay for two doctors’ certificates.
Saying goodbye on a budget
Here are some ways to save on the cost of a funeral:
• Shop around if you are planning to use a funeral director. Prices can vary hugely, but websites such as Funeralbooker and Funeral Choice allow you to research costs. Earlier this year insurer SunLife reported the average funeral, including a catered wake, costs £5,873.
Remember that you are not required to use a funeral director, and you may be able to provide your own pallbearers or source your own estate car or van instead of a hearse.
• How about an eco-coffin made of wicker, cardboard, bamboo etc? As well as being environmentally friendly, these are often much cheaper than traditional coffins. At the time of writing The Coffin Company in Northumberland was offering cardboard coffins for £99. Websites such as Comparethecoffin.com offer a vast array of products.
• Natural burial grounds are becoming increasingly popular – there are getting on for 350 across the UK, though some are “green corners” of standard municipal cemeteries, says Rosie Inman-Cook, manager of the Natural Death Centre charity (more information at naturaldeath.org.uk). She says the average charge for a plot is around £600. By contrast, a typical local authority cemetery in London is “well over £3,000”.
But Inman-Cook warns that some natural burial sites are being opened by companies “out to make money … some are hugely expensive”.
• How about being buried in the back garden? That’s certainly one way of keeping costs down, and there is a lot of interest in home burials. Inman-Cook says she is “handing out free forms and sample documents to getting on for half a dozen families a week”.
But many people would be worried about devaluing the property, or that it might take longer to sell because of the squeamishness of potential buyers.
However, it’s a myth that you have to get permission from the local authority or Land Registry. If you own the property outright and there is no mortgage, you don’t need permission from anyone, though you have to create a burial register which you attach to the deeds of the property. Also, there are guidelines on the proximity of burials to water issued by the Environment Agency that must be followed – and the death must be registered. Burying several people would amount to a change of use and require planning permission. But Inman-Cook reckons you would probably be OK as long as it’s no more than “a couple of people per generation”.
• You could get a funeral payment from the Social Fund, a government-run welfare scheme, if you are on a low income and need help to pay for a funeral. This covers things such as burial or cremation fees, and includes up to £700 for expenses such as funeral director fees or a coffin. Look for form SF200.
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