Collected Journalism

How to Die for Less Than £1000

funerals

This piece appeared in The Guardian in June 2014.

As if dying wasn’t lousy enough, it also costs a fortune. The price of life’s final unavoidable adventure continues to rise and a growing number of bereaved families in Britain are struggling to pay.

The average cost now stands at £3,456, having risen 80% since 2004. Once you include the extras such as flowers, wreaths, catering and venue hire (around an additional £2,000), it brings the bill up to a staggering £5,502. Researchers at the University of Bath estimate one in five families experiences a shortfall when it comes to paying.

Funeral directors, notoriously reticent about explaining their costs or pricing structure, are one the few industries to remain untouched by the internet’s price comparison revolution. That could finally be about to change.

A small but growing number of businesses are laying out low-cost, no-frills funeral options online, catering to a growing number of customers who want affordable alternatives.

Some hard-pressed families are driven to the budget option by constrained finances, while others see it as a chance to plan a simple affair in advance, one which doesn’t burden their family with a huge bill.

“The way funerals have been done in this country is crap,” says Charles Cowling, who runs the Good Funeral Guide blog. “It’s no wonder more people are taking permission to do things differently. You can have a loved one cremated for less than £1,000. Then, later, have a very low-cost memorial with the ashes and make it a creative, DIY event. In many ways it’s more satisfying than the big, black-tie traditional funeral.”

Catherine Joy started BB Funerals in North London back in 2010. She offers a “direct” cremation funeral, one without any formal service, for a total cost of £969. It involves transport of the body, a private committal at the crematorium without a minister and the return of the ashes in an urn. The stripped-back approach means she makes very little: somewhere between £100 and £200 per funeral.

“I think there’s the potential to make a bit more profit in the years ahead,” says Joy, who arranged around 100 direct funerals last year. “But, for me, there’s a different motivation. I used to be a celebrant for a big company and I saw how funerals were done and worked out the mark-ups on coffins were at least 200%. I couldn’t sleep at night if I did that. How could you do it to the little old lady who’s struggling with her husband’s funeral?”

Some small, high-street firms are now adding the direct cremation option to their price list, keenly aware of many low-income families’ money troubles…

Read the full article at The Guardian.

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