The death of a loved one is never easy, and the expense of paying for a funeral can be an unpleasant surprise at a time when you’re likely to be feeling at your most vulnerable.
Last year, the average cost of a funeral fell for the first time since 2004, according to SunLife’s (2022) Cost of Dying Report, largely due to the impact of the pandemic on the size of funerals and an increase in cremation over burials. However, despite this drop, the average cost of a funeral has still risen by 121% over the last 16 years. It is this increase, amongst other reasons, that led to the funeral market coming under scrutiny in recent years, with funerals becoming unaffordable for many.
In 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a review of the pre-paid funeral plan industry, and last year concluded that there are features in this sector which prevent, distort, or restrict competition. It is therefore introducing new protections for consumers at the end of July this year which will mean if a plan provider fails, existing plans can be transferred to a new provider on the same terms as the original contract.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is also banning cold calling and setting new standards on advertising to ensure plans are sold fairly. Commission payments to intermediaries, such as funeral directors, will no longer be permitted either to ensure products represent fair value for consumers.
Here, we will help you understand the rough costs of a funeral, who should pay for it, different payment options, and where to go for help to make sure your loved one gets the send-off they wanted.
How much does an average funeral cost?
The cost of a basic funeral in the UK is currently £4,056, but this figure changes considerably depending on where you live and whether you choose burial or cremation. For example, the average cost of a basic funeral in London is £5,358, whereas in North East England the same funeral would cost you £3,915.
You can find out more about what’s involved in planning a funeral and some of the costs involved in our article Arranging a funeral.
Each funeral director will be slightly different but most will ask for a deposit upfront to cover the costs they will have to pay to third-parties such as cremation or burial fees, florists, celebrants etc. Some funeral directors may also offer a discount for a larger sum paid upfront. The final bill will usually be sent shortly after the funeral.
Depending on the funeral director you choose, you may be able to pay in instalments or delay payment until money has been released from the estate, but you will need to check this with them when agreeing to the services.
How do you pay for a funeral?
If you are planning and paying for a funeral, you are legally entitled to get the money back from the estate of the person who has died. As a general rule,your payment options will be:
1. Paying for a funeral using funds from the bank account of the person who has died
When a bank is notified that someone has passed away, they will usually freeze the account until probate has been granted (the point when money can be divided between beneficiaries).
However, some banks will pay funeral costs of up to £5,000 directly to the funeral directors if given an invoice, so it is worth checking if this option is available.
Usually, the executor will need to manage this process, however, if an executor wasn’t named, it is still possible to apply for this payment. To do this, you will usually need a copy of the death certificate, an invoice for the funeral costs with your name on it and your proof of identity.
You may have been given access information to the accounts of the person who has died, but you should not use these to manage paying for the funeral. You can get into legal trouble doing this, so it is always best to speak to the bank to organise payment through legitimate methods. However, if the person who has died had a joint account and the joint owner is alive, that person will still be able to access the money in the account.
2. Paying for a funeral yourself and claiming the money back from the estate later
If you are the one planning and organising the payment for the funeral, if you can afford to, it is possible to pay for the funeral yourself and then claim the money back from the estate later on. This will usually be the responsibility of the person named as the executor to carry this out but could be family or friends that pay this sum
You are legally entitled to claim this money back before the money is split up between any beneficiaries, but you could be in for a long wait. You will need to wait until the estate administration process is nearly complete and probate has been granted, which could take anything between nine and twelve months.
It is worth noting that while you are legally entitled to claim back your money from the estate, paying the fees for a funeral will come after any secured debts are paid, such as an outstanding mortgage. It is really important to make sure that there is enough money in the estate to cover the costs. You may find yourself in a position where you need to borrow money until the money and property are sorted out and some funeral directors will allow you to delay payment or pay in instalments until this has happened.
You are not legally obliged to pay for a funeral and if there is not enough money in the estate to pay for the costs, you may be able to request help from your local council or government to pay for some of or all of the costs for the funeral.
3. Paying for a funeral using a funeral plan or funeral insurance
As mentioned, some people will have already arranged to pay for their funeral themselves either through a pre-paid funeral plan or funeral insurance.
With the price of funerals rising, more and more people are turning to pre-paid funeral plans to cover the cost, with over 66% of people making some sort of provision for their funeral before they die (Sunlife (2022) Cost of Dying Report).
To find out if the person who has died has been paying into a plan, check if there is any paperwork or payments that suggest they have a plan. If you can find any mention of a plan or insurance, you can call the provider and see if they have a record. Their plan may be able to pay for some of, or all of, the funeral costs.
If you think that the person who has died has a pre-paid funeral plan, but you can’t find details of it, you can use the Funeral Planning Authority’s Trace a Plan tool to find a lost plan. The FPA is a voluntary regulator and they will try their best to locate the plan, but as there is no centralised database of funeral plans, they may not be able to find it. They have a range of registered funeral providers they will check with, but it’s not an exhaustive list.
Of course, not all of these options will be available to everyone, and there may not be enough money in the estate once debts and loans are paid to cover funeral costs.
What can you do if you can’t afford to pay for a funeral?
The cost of a funeral is often more than many people can afford, especially if the death of a loved one is unexpected. If this is the case for you, there are a number of services, benefits and initiatives in place that may be able to help you. These include:
Funeral Expenses Payment
If you live in England, Northern Ireland, or Wales and currently receive any of the below benefits, you may be able to claim the Funeral Expenses Payment which will help towards the cost of a funeral. If you live in Scotland you will need to claim for Funeral Support Payment. You have six months from the date of the funeral to make a claim for Funeral Expenses Payment.
There is no set amount that will be covered by the Funeral Expenses Payment, but it will usually cover the following:
- Burial fees for a new grave or the reopening of an old one
- Cost of cremation
- Cost of medical documentation, such as death certificate
- Costs of moving the body (when the distance is over 50 miles) to funeral directors or the funeral
- Certain travel fees if you need to travel to plan and or attend the funeral
- Up to £700 (or £1,000 in some circumstances) for other funeral-related expenses, such as funeral director fees, the coffin, and cars.
While these costs are usually covered, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Funeral Expenses Payment will only cover the cost of the cheapest options available. So for example, if there were a number of funeral directors available in the area, the Funeral Expenses Payment will only cover the cheapest option. If you decide to pick a more expensive option, you will have to pay the difference in price.
The specific amount you get will depend on your circumstances and will factor in any other funds available that could help cover the costs, such as an insurance policy or the estate of the person who has died.
Wherever possible, the government will try to get back any money paid through the Funeral Expenses Payment from the estate of the person who has died. If you are the one putting in the claim, you will not have to pay this amount yourself, but if you are organising the estate of the person who has died (the executor), you may have to arrange for the transfer of this amount, if there is money to do so.
How do I know if I’m eligible for Funeral Expenses Payment?
To be eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment, you or your partner will need to be currently receiving one or more of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Housing Benefit
- the disability or severe disability element of Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Universal Credit
In addition to this, you will need to be:
- Living in England, Northern Ireland or Wales
- The partner of the person who died
- A close relative or friend of the person who died
There are a number of other qualifying points so to check whether you are eligible – visit Gov.uk for more information and details of how to apply.
If the amount you get from the Funeral Expenses Payment is not enough to cover the funeral costs, you may be able to get a Budgeting Loan to help you with it.
You may also be eligible for other bereavement benefits to help you cope financially after a death. Read our article Bereavement benefits explained to find out more.
Public health funeral
If there isn’t enough money in the estate, you can’t get any help to pay for the funeral, or you do not want to pay for the funeral, the local authorities or hospital can arrange a Public Health Funeral.
A public health funeral is not a welfare benefit or a free alternative to a private funeral and will usually be a short, basic funeral with a cremation unless it can be determined that this would be against the wishes of the person who has died.
While most local authorities will do their best to accommodate the wishes of the person who has died for their funeral, they are not legally required to carry them out. They will make reasonable efforts to keep you informed of the plans for the funeral, but they are not required to accommodate any of your wishes for it.
As with the Funeral Expenses Payment, if it is possible the local authorities will try to recoup the costs of the funeral from the estate of the person who has died, to reduce the amount paid by the taxpayers.
If you need to request a public health funeral you will need to do this through your local authority or, if the person died in hospital, you can inform your NHS trust.
Have you been through the difficult process of paying for a funeral, or have you claimed Funeral Expenses Payment, and did you find the claims process easy or difficult? We’d be interested to hear from you. You can join the conversation on the bereavement section of our community forum or leave a comment below.