Churchill magazine

How to get help with funeral costs

Updated on: 15 September 2020

A flower in the centre of a table at a funeral director's.

When suffering a loss, the last thing anyone wants to be thinking about is money. But funerals are getting more expensive, and it’s something families can struggle to pay for. Many of them don’t realise what help is available for funeral costs.

The impact of rising funeral costs

The Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report from 2018 revealed that 1 in 10 people took on debt to pay for a loved one’s funeral, taking on an average debt of £1,744.

The Down to Earth support line, which offers help to anyone with funeral-related debt, has seen a rise in people calling for advice too. In 2017, they helped 978 people – a number which has trebled since 2015.

Families are taking extreme measures to raise the funds they need, including selling valuables, taking out loans and launching crowdfunding campaigns.

How much does it cost to put on a funeral?

What's included?    
What's the average cost?    
Traditional burial with a funeral director    
You’ll get a simple service, hearse and a coffin. The funeral directors will also collect and take care of the deceased’s body. You have to pay extra for a headstone.    
Cremation with a funeral director    
Funeral directors will provide the same services as above, but a cremation is slightly cheaper than a burial.    
Direct cremation    
You’ll have to arrange the paperwork. No funeral service is provided, but most people organise a memorial instead. The money pays for things like the collection of the body, a simple coffin, and return of the ashes (you need to request them).    

Sources: Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report 2018
(*recommended budget)

When organising a funeral, you tend to pay for funeral director fees, third-party costs, and local authority fees. A direct cremation is the cheapest option because there’s no funeral director and you limit third-party costs, e.g. gravesites, venue booking, and ceremony costs. You just need the transport and cremation.

What happens if you can’t afford a funeral?

With funeral prices creeping up over the years, many families try to keep the costs down – by hosting wakes at home, for example. But what happens if the family can’t afford a funeral?

In the UK, every local authority has a duty to arrange a funeral if someone dies and:

  1. The family can’t be traced
  2. The family can’t pay for or organise a funeral
  3. There’s no alternative

These public health funerals are organised and paid for by the local authority. It’s their responsibility to recover the costs from the deceased’s estate if possible.

But don’t expect an extravagant send-off; a public health funeral only provides the bare minimum, without any personal touches.

Sources of funding to help with funeral costs

You might think you’ve no way of paying for a funeral, but there could be sources of funding which you haven’t considered. These include:

  • Money from the deceased’s estate. First things first, check if there are funds available. One of the priorities of any money left is to help pay for the funeral. If you take a death certificate and a copy of the funeral bill to the bank, many of them will be able to pay a funeral director directly from the deceased’s account.
  • Life insurance policies. If the deceased had a life insurance policy, some of the payout could go towards funeral costs.
  • Government support and the Department of Work and Pensions
  • Funeral Expenses Payment. A one-off payment for people receiving certain benefits or tax credits. It goes towards the costs of a funeral, but usually won’t cover everything. You must apply within six months of the funeral and be receiving one of the following:
    • Income Support
    • Housing Benefit
    • The disability or severe disability element of Working Tax Credit
    • Pension Credit
    • Universal Credit
    • Child Tax Credit
    • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

It’ll cover all ‘necessary’ costs fully, including burial or cremation costs, and there’s a £700 maximum allowance for other costs such as a funeral director. Check if you’re eligible.

  • Bereavement Support Payment. If your husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017, you could be entitled to the Bereavement Support Payment. You need to be under the state pension age and they should’ve paid National Insurance (for at least 25 weeks) or died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by their job. There are two rates:
    • A higher rate of £3,500 as a first payment, followed by up to 18 monthly payments of £350.
    • A lower rate of £2,500, and monthly payments of £100.

If you get or are entitled to Child Benefit, you’ll get the higher rate of Bereavement Support Payment.

  • Interest-free budgeting loans. The government provides budgeting loans for all kinds of things – from the costs of moving house to funeral costs. It’s interest-free, and the repayments will be taken from your benefits based on what you can afford. To qualify, you’ll need to have been getting one or more of these benefits for six months:
    • Income Support
    • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
    • Pension Credit
  • Grants from work-related organisations and associations. If you are, or the deceased was, a member of a union, there could be bereavement-related benefits for members. You could also look into charities related to either of your jobs. They’ll usually want to know you’ve explored any government funding you might be entitled to before helping you.
  • Charities and trusts. There could be local or national charities which help, depending on different criteria such as your location or the deceased’s health issues. For example, there are a few charities which support families who’ve lost a child, including The Child Funeral Charity and React.

Support can also be found in unexpected places. The British Gas Energy Trust is designed to help anyone struggling to make ends meet, even if they’re not a customer. This includes contributions towards funeral arrears.

  • Repayment plans and loans. Funeral providers will require some money upfront, but many offer repayment plans for the bulk of the costs.

Check out Turn2us to see what benefits or grants might be available to you.

How to save money on a funeral

If you can cut back costs, you’re less likely to get into debt when organising a funeral. Of course, you’ll want to listen to any wishes noted in the deceased’s will and organise a memorable occasion, but you could consider the following:

  • Cremation. It’s cheaper to be cremated than buried. It means you don’t have to pay for a burial plot and headstone. There’s been a strong shift in what people want to happen when they die, with 58% saying they’d prefer cremation, in comparison with 17% of those who would opt for burial.
  • A different burial plot. If you’d like to be buried, prices vary between £261 and £18,325 depending on your region. Even within the same site, better-positioned plots could be more expensive e.g. if they’re closer to a path. You could also consider natural burial sites. They’re in woodlands and work out cheaper than a cemetery plot – find out more about natural burial sites in the UK.
  • Don’t embalm the body. It’s not a legal requirement to have a body embalmed.
  • Cheaper coffins. There’s a huge difference in costs when it comes to coffins. You could consider cheaper materials. Luxuries which you could do without include brass handles and solid wooden coffins.
  • Shop around. If you’re using a funeral director, make sure you shop around for the best prices and services. It might be tempting to go with the first provider, but comparing quotes and services can save you money.
  • Have the wake at home. Rather than paying for a venue and catering, more people are hosting wakes at the family home.
  • Limit the extravagance. Not everyone needs – or even wants – a huge funeral. Things you could think twice about include huge floral decorations, limos, and a hearse. Look at the average cost of these ‘extras’, and see if there’s anything you could cut out:
    • Order sheets: £60
    • Obituary: £72
    • Funeral notice: £78
    • Flowers: £152
    • Venue hire: £360
    • Catering: £422
    • Limo hire: £305
    • Memorial: £871

Source: Royal London

It can all be a bit daunting. But there’s good news. According to Royal London, “the industry is continuing to respond to the demand for a lower cost, simpler alternative to the traditional funeral.” Affordable options are becoming more accessible to anyone arranging a funeral.

Talking about your funeral wishes

We hope you never have to struggle with funeral costs. But if you need support, it’s good to know there are places to find help and ways of cutting down the costs.

However you’d like to be remembered, it’s important to talk to your loved ones about your funeral wishes. It won’t be the easiest conversation to have, but should help you be more prepared when the time comes.

The payout from a life insurance policy or over 50s life insurance policy may be suitable to contribute towards funeral costs. Find out more here about Churchill Life Insurance or Over 50s Life Insurance.

Related articles

A supportive hand for someone dealing with grief.

Coping with death and grief – The bereavement process explained

As much as we don't like to think about it, death is a part of life. It's understandable to feel sad and even helpless when this happens, but the pain will become easier to cope with over time.
Sepsis infection bacteria

Sepsis: what is it and how can you spot it?

Like many people, you've probably heard of sepsis, often known as blood poisoning, but how much do you really know about it?