Funeral poverty risk to low income families and the elderly

Posted on: 09 January 2017 by 50connect editorial

Rising funeral costs, lack of savings and low income have put UK families in financial difficulty when dealing with bereavement writes Rosie Inman-Cook.

funeral poverty risk

More than half a million folk die in the UK every year. Recently a spike took this figure over six hundred thousand.

When you consider that a significant percentage of individuals and families have no savings and no access to normal credit facilities you can understand how some resort to payday loans or simply 'throw themselves on the town hall steps', having made the decision to ask the council to arrange an environmental health funeral. What used to be termed a paupers funeral in times gone by. Most authorities say that this number is increasing.

Funeral costs are in the news frequently. Prices for even the undertaker's 'budget, fair funeral' can come as a massive shock and worry to hundreds of thousands of families every year at around £3000, depending on the type of funeral directors contacted.

There is some help available to those on certain benefits. However, only around 35% of applications are successful and even then they don't pay out for weeks, long after the funeral has taken place. So again a loan may be required.

Callers to the Natural Death Centre helpline who are facing this dilemma broadly fall into four groups.

  • The elderly with no savings,
  • Immigrants doing menial work 
  • People on low wages with no savings and
  • Students or young adults with no savings who are taking responsibility for delinquent parents who have died penniless.

None of these groups can claim help from the DWP, social fund.

Perversely, the spouse of someone who dies whilst in work and paying NI contributions can claim a one-off payment of £2000 but the elderly who have paid NICs all their working life get nothing. Some employers have a death in service package, these pay out varying amounts.

The solution for many of the above groups is to carry out a direct funeral which can cost as little as £831 all inclusive for a direct cremation. Or for the families to carry the funeral out themselves.

The main problem with any of this is that information about these alternatives is not readily available and as stated in part 1, many people believe it is the law to use a funeral director.

There is now a company who can carry out direct burials, using a network of funeral directors, carriage master and natural burial sites. This means it is now possible to be buried throughout the UK for £1600 or under, all inclusive. Less than half the usual cost.

Unfortunately, some of the private crematoria are particularly unhelpful and obstructive towards DIY families. Telling them that they have to employ a funeral director and have to arrive in a hearse. This is purely individual crematoria policy and when you understand that many are owned by funeral companies you can start to understand why. Local authority crematoria are very helpful and will not force families to use an undertaker which entails spending at least another £2000.

Rosie Inman CookAbout the author

Rosie Inman-Cook is manager of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds and the Natural Death Centre, an educational charity which sees death as a natural part of life. Founded in 1991, it is committed to supporting cultural change and is working towards a situation where all people are empowered in the process of dying, and organising a funeral.

This content is reproduced with permission of Final Choices

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