Well, we all spend a lot of time thinking about our taxes – how much we are paying, whether they are fair, if there is any way of mitigating them – but how much time do you spend thinking about how much your death is going to cost? Not cost you, of course, because by that time it won’t matter to you, but the loved ones you have left behind.
The good news is that it will cost you less on average to die in Scotland than it will in the UK as a whole. The bad news is that the average cost, which includes everything from funeral directors’ fees and flowers to memorials and coffins, still sits well over £3,000 at £3,435 – that’s the equivalent of nearly half a year’s worth of state pension payments.
The costs vary from a high of £3,743 in Dundee to a low of £3,127 in Greenock, according to research from pensions company Royal London.
It is no wonder, then, that Royal London also found that people are taking on debt of around £1,600 as a consequence of having to meet what can often be the entirely unplanned for and unexpected cost of a funeral.
This has not been lost on the Scottish Government, which last week unveiled its Funeral Cost Plan, an initiative designed to “address the inequalities that exist in our society” by tackling “funeral poverty” as part of the wider Fairer Scotland Action Plan.
As part of this the Government will publish guidance on funeral costs by December 2018 before introducing a funeral expense assistance benefit the follow year.
As equalities secretary Angela Constance said: “The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for anyone. It can be even harder when money is tight. We know funeral costs can push people into poverty – and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties.”
As part of the plan the Government is looking to pilot a funeral bond designed to help people save towards the cost of their own funeral and is also examining how it could strengthen consumer protections in relation to commercially available funeral plans.
The latter is a vital point and one that was highlighted by consumer organisation Fairer Finance earlier this year.
In a paper called ‘Is the prepaid funeral planning market working well for consumers?’, the organisation said that while over 200,000 prepaid funeral plans are currently sold in the UK each year, “the market is growing at a rapid rate”.
It is easy to see why, given that such plans allow consumers to lock-in the cost of a funeral at today’s prices. However, be warned: many plans cover only the cost of the funeral director, meaning many bereaved families who think they will have nothing more to pay get hit with additional fees for items such as catering, flowers and transportation when they are at their most vulnerable.
“While most funeral directors carry out their duties with care and sensitivity, a minority are transparent about their prices and costs until enquiries are made over the phone or in person – making it hard for consumers to make informed decisions,” said Fairer Finance managing director James Daley.
“At the worst end of the market, businesses are exploiting customers at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.”
While a funeral plan may make sense for anyone who wants to spread the cost by paying in instalments, Dean Sobers, a business researcher at consumer association Which?, pointed out that the higher the number of instalments the greater the overall cost will be.
“Like many other financial products, such as car and home insurance, funeral plan providers give you the option of paying either in instalments or in a lump sum,” he said.
“Most providers give you the option to pay over 12 months to 120 months. Paying in instalments for a long time will cost more because of administration fees and interest. While 12 monthly payments may cost roughly the same, paying over 60 months, for example, can add around 15 per cent to 26 per cent to the overall cost.”
For those without a funeral plan – and Sobers stressed that anyone with enough savings to cover the cost of a funeral may be better not to take one out – the Money Advice Service said “there is no need to feel pressured to spend a lot of money or get yourself into debt just to show your affection and respect”.
Highlighting ways of reducing the cost of a funeral, the organisation said the most obvious is to shop around and get quotes from a number of funeral directors, florists and caterers, although this may be easier said than done while also trying to cope with a bereavement.
Easier savings include everything from opting for a cheaper crematorium time slot – usually early in the day on a weekday – to choosing a biodegradable rather than wooden coffin or even a woodland burial. Information on the latter is available from the Natural Death Centre.
The key point, according to the Money Advice Service, is that it is possible to “have a funeral that’s dignified and meaningful without having to spend a huge amount of money”.
Source : HeraldScotland