CLERGY are being urged to talk about funeral costs during their pastoral visits to grieving families, to help people avoid getting into debt paying for a good send-off for their loved one.
In the past ten years, prices have soared by 80 per cent. The average cost of a funeral in the UK is now £8427.
Last year alone, the cost of dying rose seven times faster than the cost of living, and funeral services were the top transaction on credit cards in 2013.
The funeral industry is worth an estimated £2 billion in the UK, and three companies now dominate the sector: Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare, and Funeral Partners.
A report by the charity Church Action on Poverty says that funeral directors do not offer their low-cost or cheapest funeral up front; and people still suffering the shock of bereavement do not feel able to shop around to ensure that they do not pay too much.
The report says that clergy, who still provide nearly half the funerals in England, despite a rise in secular funerals, are well placed to help people talk about the cost, and to refer people to lower-cost options, including loans offered through credit unions for funerals.
In England, 47 per cent of funerals were conducted by ministers of the Church of England, Roman Catholic, or Methodist Church, the latest figures show. The Church of England still provides about 3000 funerals a week, although numbers have dropped in recent years.
The once universal death-grant was replaced with the funeral payment in 1989 by the Conservative government. This, however, covers only a small portion of the costs of even a cheap funeral, and half of those who apply for the grant are refused it — but only get a decision after the funeral has gone ahead.
One of the co-authors of the report, Preventing Poverty Beyond Death, Niall Cooper, said: “Clergy still have a unique role, and are in a trusted position to raise some of the questions of the potential financial challenges people are facing with funerals.
“People feel under pressure to give their loved one a fitting send-off, and there is an incentive for funeral directors not to offer their cheapest deals up front.
“Clergy need to understand the different pricing options, and then they can help people avoid huge and unnecessary debt.”
The report also studies several Christian projects that seek to tackle the problem, including Quaker Social Action’s initiative Down to Earth, and Fair Funerals pledge; and the Anglican diocese of Lichfield’s provision of funeral loans through its partnership with a local credit union.
There has also been a rise in so-called DIY funerals, where relatives dispense with a funeral director and collect the body and fill in the paperwork themselves. In some instances, relatives can rent a coffin for cremations at a fraction of the cost of buying one. The coffin is then removed before cremation, for use at another funeral. Mr Cooper said that this option was popular in countries such as the United States, but was now becoming available in the UK.
Church Action on Poverty is urging funeral directors to sign a “fair funerals pledge”, promising to display full price-lists and make their low-cost option more visible to customers. It also wants the Archbishop of Canterbury to urge more credit unions to offer funeral loans, to try to combat the doorstep loans that many people on low incomes take out to pay for a funeral.
Parliament should hold a national inquiry into funeral and bereavement poverty — in particular, the inadequate funeral-payment system, the report says.
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