A direct cremation involves the body of the person who has died being cremated without a funeral service or other ceremony, and usually without any mourners present.
Over the last few years, direct cremation has grown in popularity. In 2018, only 2% of funerals were direct cremations, but last year this rose to 18%, according to the SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2023, making it the fastest growing type of funeral in the UK. It’s also something that a number of well known individuals have chosen for their funeral, including Karl Lagerfeld, David Bowie, Anita Brookner and John Lennon.
Here we cover everything you need to know about direct cremation and why it’s an option you might want to consider.
What is direct cremation?
Direct cremation, also known as simple cremation, is a scaled back type of funeral where the body of the person who has died is cremated without a ceremony and often without mourners.
It is the cheapest form of funeral, as there are none of the optional extras you might have if you went for a traditional cremation or burial, such as a ceremony, limousines or flowers.
For many people, the price of direct cremation means that the thousands of pounds that might have been spent on a funeral can go towards something else, whether that’s a bigger send-off celebration, or even leaving it as an inheritance.
What’s the difference between cremation and direct cremation?
The biggest difference between cremation and direct cremation is that with a direct cremation, you don’t attend a service, and there won’t be a procession, or hearse for the person who has died, you also won’t usually choose the day or time of the cremation.
The whole process is normally carried out without any friends or family in attendance at a time that suits the crematorium, although some crematoriums will offer the option to view the coffin before it goes to be cremated.
What happens during a direct cremation?
The actual process will vary from place to place, but generally with a direct cremation, the body is collected directly from the morgue, taken to the crematorium and cremated at a time that’s convenient for the crematorium. The family and/or friends of the person who has died will then be told when they can collect the ashes, although this is unlikely to be immediately after the cremation.
Most crematoriums offer two types of direct cremation:
Unattended direct cremations
This is where the body is cremated with no ceremony and no mourners at a time that is suitable for the crematorium. The family of the person will then be able to collect the ashes at an allotted time.
Attended direct cremations
This option allows a small number of mourners to be present as the coffin enters the cremation chamber. There’s still no service, and it’s likely that they would have to attend the crematorium at a time that the crematorium sets rather than being able to pick a time. Collecting the ashes works much the same as the unattended direct cremation.
Why might you want a direct cremation?
The reasons for choosing any type of funeral are likely to be personal, but some people might choose a direct cremation for a number of reasons, including:
Funerals are expensive, and for growing numbers of people, it’s something they aren’t interested in spending huge amounts of money on.
Direct cremations are one of the cheapest ways of laying someone to rest, costing on average £1,511 (2023 SunLife Cost of Dying Report), compared to £4,794 for a burial with a funeral ceremony and £3,673 for a standard cremation.
The cost of a direct cremation will usually cover the collection of the person who has died, doctor’s fees (which include the cost of completing legally required certificate that will allow the cremation), a simple coffin and cremation fees.
It’s also worth remembering that funerals only account for around a third of the full cost of someone dying, with the average cost amounting to £9,200 in 2022. The other portion of this is made up by professional fees for things like probate and for the cost of the send-off which covers things like a venue and catering for the wake. So for some people, saving money on their funeral makes sound financial sense.
A practical option
Not everyone needs or wants the formality of a traditional funeral, and a direct cremation offers a practical, simple approach to the necessary process of dealing with the body of someone who has died.
It’s not only straightforward, but for some people, it can be a relief to know that their family won’t need to worry about making plans in the days and weeks after they’ve died.
Greater control over your send off
With a direct cremation, you might feel like you have greater control over how your life is celebrated after you’ve died.
With lower costs involved in a direct cremation, you might also be able to devote more money to the things you care about, whether that be an event for your family and friends or a cause that is dear to you that you would like to continue to support after you pass.
In some cases, people who are aware that death is imminent and who don’t want a sombre event after they die, have opted instead to host an event while they are well enough to participate as a way of saying goodbye to a wider circle of friends.
How to arrange a direct cremation
When planning a direct cremation, you can either sort out the logistics yourself, or reach out to a funeral director to help you organise it.
If you’re planning for a direct cremation for yourself once you die, many funeral directors will offer a prepaid plan option so you can spread the cost.
Planning a direct cremation yourself
If you want to plan a direct cremation yourself, the best way to do so is to reach out to local crematoriums and ask them how to arrange it with them.
For example, Distinct Cremations is a specialist provider of simple and affordable direct cremations and funeral plans. It offers both unattended or attended direct cremations, with costs for the former starting from £995, which includes the cremation itself along with collection of the body, an urn, mortuary care and more. You can pay upfront or in monthly instalments over a range of terms.
A quick internet search will usually show you your nearest crematoriums, but you can also have a look at this list of UK crematoriums from Funeral Guide.
Different crematoriums will charge different amounts for their direct cremations, so if there is more than one crematorium near you, it might be worth comparing their prices. As part of new regulations that were introduced in 2021, all funeral directors and crematorium operators are required to provide clear overviews of their prices, so you will usually be able to find a downloadable PDF on their website that outlines their costs.
Planning a direct cremation with a funeral director
Most funeral directors will be able to help you plan a direct cremation, but of course, the cost for this is likely to be higher than if you planned it yourself, although the cost will vary from place to place.
Using a funeral director will usually mean that you won’t need to worry about any admin, and if you’re planning for your own funeral, you can organise and pay for it in advance.
If you take out a funeral plan, or have specific wishes for when you’re gone, make sure these are documented. You should make a note of funeral wishes in your will, but it can also be helpful to have them noted down elsewhere. One way you might want to do this is by making a ‘What to do when I die’ organiser that details all the information your family or friends might need, including funeral wishes. You can print off and fill out your own organiser and read more in our article Getting your affairs in order: how to help your loved ones.
If you are looking for a funeral director and don’t know where to find one, the Good Funeral Guide has a ‘find a funeral director’ section on its website here. The Funeral Guide site also has a funeral directors section on its website here.