Coronavirus lockdown rules for funerals are expected to prompt a rise in direct cremations, which take place without a service.
No frills cremations cost around £1,600 on average, and ashes are returned to a family afterwards, allowing them to organise their own personal memorial for a loved one at a time of their choosing.
The option to delay a get-together until the lockdown eases or ends could appeal to many bereaved families, as funeral attendance is currently restricted to closest relatives and household members, and mourners must observe social distancing rules.
Direct cremations: Ashes are returned to a family afterwards, allowing them to organise their own personal memorial later – including after the virus lockdown ends
Guidance for safe funerals issued by Public Health England, after discussion with faith leaders, means those attending must stay two metres apart, including when travelling to and from a service.
If the person who died doesn’t have family or household members going to their funeral, a ‘modest’ number of friends are allowed to attend instead. Read the official advice here.
‘Many more families may opt for a direct cremation at the moment, rather than spending thousands on a funeral that no-one can attend, and then hold a wake or celebration of life at a later date,’ says financial services firm SunLife.
‘Under the latest social distancing laws, funerals can no longer take place in the same way,’ it adds. ‘Funerals may only take place at a crematorium or at the graveside rather than in a church.’
In a survey published earlier this year, SunLife found just 4 per cent of families choose direct cremation, probably because most are unaware of the option.
Nearly half of people who recently organised a funeral hadn’t heard about a direct cremation, which is the cheapest type available.
Cost breakdown: Some 73 per cent of families chose to have relatives cremated, accompanied by a funeral service, 4 per cent for a direct cremation, and 23 per cent for a burial in 2019 (Source: SunLife)
But once informed about what is involved, a fifth of this group said they would have considered it for their relative, and two fifths would think about it for their own funeral.
‘Direct cremations can be one of the most affordable kinds of funeral, at £1,626 on average, compared to £3,858 for an average cremation and £4,975 for the average burial,’ says Ian Atkinson, marketing director at SunLife.
Can you get help with funeral costs?
The maximum amount families can claim for funeral expenses recently rose from £700 to £1,000 for people dying after April 8.
That is on top of allowances that pay for other funeral costs, such as burial or cremation fees, says Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
‘While every penny is welcome at such a horrible and expensive time, the payment is designed to cover the basics, so it won’t come close to giving families any real choices,’ she adds.
‘You or your partner will need to receive one of a number of benefits including universal credit, pension credit, income support or housing benefit to qualify. You may not receive the benefit if another close relative of the deceased is in work.
‘You need to be a partner or close relative or friend of the deceased, the parent of a stillborn child or a child who was under 16 or under 20 and studying or training.’
A list of ways to reduce a funeral bill and details of how to claim financial help from the Government are here.
‘Currently, only immediate family – spouse, children and parents of the deceased – are allowed to attend funerals. This can be very distressing, adding to the pain of a loss.
‘It may be that some people feel it is better at the moment to have no one attend.’
Catherine Powell, co-founder of Pure Cremation, says coping with the death of a loved one at any time is a heart-breaking ordeal, and families are now facing distressing uncertainty about funeral arrangements during the coronavirus lockdown
Her firm specialises in direct cremations, and she says they are a responsible way of respectfully laying a loved one to rest, and allow mourners time to plan a suitable memorial that everyone can attend after the lockdown is lifted.
Powell says these events can be very personal and moving, and give families more freedom to mark the passing of a loved one in a way they want rather than defaulting to the uniform, traditional approach.
Pure charges £1,195 for a direct cremation, and an additional fee of £250 applies when the deceased is collected from a venue which is not a hospital or coroner’s mortuary.
Online wills and probate specialist Farewill recently launched a £980 direct cremation service aimed at people wanting a budget or unconventional send-off for loved ones.
Farewill, which This is Money’s parent company DMGT owns a stake in through its DMG Ventures arm, says its price includes bringing a deceased loved one into its care from anywhere in England and Wales, preparation of all necessary paperwork, the cremation fee, and hand delivery of ashes in an urn.
The firm adds that it assigns a dedicated person to help customers through the process. If doctors’ fees apply, this costs an additional £164, an amount set by the government. Complex collections can cost an additional £250.
How do direct cremations work?
‘Put simply, a direct cremation is a cremation with no funeral service,’ says Ian Atkinson, marketing director at SunLife.
‘The body goes straight to the crematorium to be cremated – usually in a plain coffin, at a time that’s suitable for the crematoria – and the ashes are returned to the family.
‘There is no funeral service, but the family of the deceased can then choose to have a celebration of their life wherever and whenever they want to.
‘This type of send-off is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons, but mainly because there is no need for extra expenses, like hearses and limos, embalming, officiant’s fees, flowers and orders of service, making it considerably cheaper.
‘Also, if someone dies abroad, a direct cremation can save the considerable cost of transporting the body home. But also because a direct cremation funeral can be so personal.
‘When the service is not tied to the crematorium, it can be done exactly how the family wants at a time and a place that is right for them.
‘Our research shows that while the number of direct cremations is relatively low and there are probably a few reasons why.
‘The main one is a lack of awareness, because, as we have shown in our report once people know about them many said they would have chosen it for the deceased and even more say they would have one themselves.
‘Another factor is that some funeral directors do not suggest it at all or only if they think the family is struggling with money.’
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