Covid crisis prompts financial fears for those organising funerals

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A third of people organising a funeral in the UK because of Covid-19 found meeting the costs caused them financial worries, according to the insurer SunLife.

The pandemic also contributed to a fivefold surge in no-frills direct cremations, where there is no funeral service and no family or friends present, the annual report on the cost of dying found.

This type of simple, low-cost funeral is typically cheaper than ever, the report says, costing an average of £1,554, down from £1,712 in 2018.

By contrast, the cost of a standard cremation and a standard burial have risen once again, to £3,885 and £5,033 respectively, SunLife said.

SunLife found that once all fees and sendoff costs were taken into account, families spent an average of £9,263 in 2020, up from £9,192 the previous year.

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Of those who organised a funeral between February and June last year, 82% said it was affected “a lot” by Covid-19, 71% said that not everyone who wanted to attend could, and 34% said paying for the funeral caused them “notable financial concerns”.

SunLife said: “With social distancing, lockdowns and quarantine restrictions in force throughout most of 2020, a direct cremation has been the most practical option for many.”

With this form of funeral, the deceased goes straight to the crematorium. Typically, there is no service – so no mourners, flowers, limos or hymns – leaving families free to organise a more personal sendoff later.

Direct cremations accounted for 14% of all funerals in 2020, up from 3% in 2019.

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As with standard funerals, prices for direct cremations vary greatly and it is possible to pay quite a lot less than the quoted £1,554 average. Pure Cremation charges £1,195, which includes a pine eco-coffin and hand delivery of the ashes. Simplicity Cremations charges £995, which includes a simple wood-effect coffin, although returning the ashes to the family costs extra.

Some in the industry say there are a lot of misconceptions about direct cremation – for example, that it is for “poor people” or those who “no one cares about” – but the SunLife report says many funeral directors believe it is “starting to lose its stigma as the ‘cheap choice’ and instead be seen as a legitimate option for those who want a simpler funeral”.