Understanding how people in the UK approach funeral planning is important to us, and the publication of the Sunlife Cost of Dying report is always met with great interest. Whilst this may sound odd, the insight which the report provides into the wider industry is extremely valuable, not least of all because it looks at the overall picture of what goes into a funeral including costs, wishes, trends and traditions.
Of course, the last few years have been far from normal due to the Covid pandemic and so the report is tremendously useful in sharing an insight into what’s changed. It also offers some ideas as to whether this is a permanent change in demand or more likely to be something intrinsically linked to the pandemic.
Let’s talk money
The report is styled as the ‘Cost of Dying’ report and so it’s little wonder that finance is the main focus. In a cost-of-living crisis, it’s not a surprise to read that the cost of the actual funeral itself has reduced for the second year in a row from £4,056 in 2021 to £3,953 in 2022. Added to that is the fact that the overall cost, once you add in the ‘send off costs’ has increased from £8,864 in 2021 to £9,200 in 2022. The big increases have been in venue and catering costs, both up over 10% year-on-year.
Direct cremations continue to increase in popularity. In 2018 they made up just 2% of funerals but in 2022 this figure had jumped to 18%, almost 1 in 5. This increase is likely to have been a key driver in bringing the average cost of funerals down. The average direct cremation costs just £1,511, 8.2% down on the year before. When compared to traditional cremations (£3,673) and burials (£4,794), it’s easy to see how an increase in popularity and decrease in cost can shift the overall average.
There remain regional variances in the costs with London, the South and South– East remaining the highest priced areas of the UK. In 2022 however, the cost of funerals went down almost everywhere with the exception of Wales and Northern Ireland which witnessed increases of 13% and 8% respectively.
Paying for funeral costs
As well as looking at the cost of funerals, the report also delves into how families and organisers cover the costs. Encouragingly, people appear to be making more provision for funeral costs with around 80% having savings, investments or prepaid plans. But the report picks up on the fact that whilst more is being done to make provision, not all costs are being covered, leaving family and loved ones having to pick up the balance.
There’s some discussion in the report about why this is and in the deeper detail it’s clear that those arranging the funeral aren’t always doing everything they can to reduce costs. 82% of those organising the funeral don’t seek a quote in advance or only get one quote from the Funeral Director (FD) they intended to use. This is despite the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) intervention in the industry requiring better transparency of costs, supposedly making it easier for families to seek competitive quotes. FD’s also state that many families spend more than they have to – either out of a wish to do right by the deceased or because they are unclear about any specific wishes.
Despite this, the CMA ruling and subsequent legislation that followed it in 2021 does appear to be having an impact. Funeral Directors are saying that the new rules have changed their pricing strategies and there is more awareness, at least locally, of rival firms’ pricing and offering as a result.
Wishes, trends and traditions
The move to direct cremation is one of the biggest takeaways from this latest report, but there are some other important findings too, mainly around the discussions that take place, or don’t, between families and their loved ones in preparation for a funeral.
Strikingly, less than 1% (0.3%) of funeral organisers knew the explicit wishes of the deceased – a decrease on the previous report. Almost 1 in 5 (18%) didn’t know anything about the deceased’s wishes for their funeral and around half didn’t know whether their loved one wanted to be cremated or buried. Of those that did know of their loved one’s wishes, only 59% had gained this knowledge directly from the deceased, another figure that saw a reduction year-on-year. Others had to piece together wishes from letters of intent, solicitors, wills, funeral plans and digital wishes sites!
Elsewhere, celebrations of life are on the rise whilst religious ceremonies are on the decrease; a recent trend mirroring wider public sentiment toward religion. Funerals, wishes and planning, like much else in society, are also becoming increasingly digital with social media replacing invitations and death notices; and the number of services being live–streamed, videoed or even photographed also rising in popularity.
But most importantly, this latest report from Sunlife, once again identifies that services, whether dictated by the deceased or not, are becoming increasingly personalised. Coloured or designed coffins, music and dance, light-hearted speeches and in some cases fancy dress are all becoming part of the norm. Whilst the days of sombre black dress and mourning are far from gone, Funeral Directors report seeing more colourful dresses, a focus on celebration rather than loss and an increase in the number of highly bespoke requests – with one person even asking to be dressed as Santa Claus in their coffin!
You can download a full copy of the report here https://www.sunlife.co.uk/funeral-costs/
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