Funeral costs have risen across the UK for the 17th year in a row, but the economic fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on social gatherings could change this as families opt for simpler, smaller funerals.
The new survey from SunLife suggested that the average cost of a funeral, including fees and awake, was £9263, up from £9162 in 2019.
However, there was a spike in the popularity of direct cremations between February and July because of the Coronavirus, said SunLife. Direct cremations do not include a funeral service and are not attended by guests. On average, direct cremation costs just £1,554.
A quarter of families making funeral arrangements over this period said the deaths of their loved one was COVID-19-related, while 8 in 10 said that not everyone who wanted to be at the service could.
Funeral directors told researchers that they expected the pandemic to have long-lasting effects on the industry, with people opting for smaller, simpler funerals as a result of job losses and economic hardship.
In June 2020, it was reported that many funeral directors had partially refunded or undercharged families on funeral plans due to the restrictions placed on services, which meant they could not deliver certain services, such as limousine transport.
The report, by Europe Economics, said these concessions were made in spite of the fact that many funeral directors face rising overheads as a result of the pandemic, due to more time-consuming ways of working in order to follow social distancing guidelines and increased costs of essential equipment such as body bags.
For consumers, the funeral cost is still heavily dependent on where in the UK you live. London has long been the most expensive place to die, owing partly to the cost of burial plots, and in 2020 the average funeral in London cost £5,235- up 3.4% in 2019.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, funerals are consistently the least expensive, and in 2020 a typical funeral cost £3,222- a 7% fall in price in 2019. When it comes to covering the costs, only 65% of people make financial arrangements for their funeral before they die.
Funeral plans, savings, and life insurance are some of the most common ways people contribute to their funeral costs. Of the 35% of families who financed their family's service themselves last year, many were forced to dip into reserves to cover the costs.
According to SunLife, nearly 40% of people took money from their savings, and a quarter reported borrowing from a friend or paying on credit. Some 14% said that the death of their loved one caused them significant financial problems.
In December, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) completed a two-year investigation into funeral services in an attempt to settle on measures that could curb the rising costs for consumers and make the industry more transparent.
However, it stated that pricing caps would have to wait until after the pandemic's 'extraordinary circumstances' subsided.
Instead, the CMA suggested making it compulsory for funeral directors to disclose prices in a transparent way and launch regular inspections of funeral directors, who are currently unregulated.
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