The Financial Impact of Paying for a Funeral: Call for Research Participants

Published on: Author: Naomi Richards Leave a comment

Blog by Ruth Bickerton, PhD Candidate in Human Geography at the University of Dundee

Howff burial ground in Dundee, Scotland

Almost one in five people organising a funeral in the UK have notable financial concerns about paying for it[1]This means that over 126,000 funerals each year cause real financial problems[2]. Funerals can cost on average in the region of £4,000 for a ‘basic funeral’ (comprising the burial or cremation, funeral director, doctor and minister or celebrant)[3]. Adding in average send-off costs can raise costs by almost £2,700, with legal fees adding around £2,600. In total this can amount to £9,200 on average. My name is Ruth Bickerton, and in my PhD study at the University of Dundee, I am looking to survey people online, and conduct interviews with people, about the impact that organising a funeral has had their on finances and well-being.

Why is funeral organisation an important research topic? 

Funerals can be a positive experience in the bereavement process, with public displays of respect being paid to the deceased person and the ritual providing a comfort at a difficult time. However, a funeral can place a financial obligation on the person organising the funeral. 

The funeral costs will vary depending on the choices made. For example, burials tend to be more expensive than cremations. There are then options about other aspects, such as whether or not to have cars to take mourners to the funeral, what kind of coffin to use, whether to incorporate flowers and if so, what sort, whether there is a wake, and so on. 

Funeral costs can also vary by where a person lived, effectively creating a postcode lottery of prices. For example, a cremation in Friockheim, Angus, costs £1,100 compared to £488 in the City of London[4]. There can be an even wider geographical variation in burial costs. In space-limited Kensal Green Cemetery, for example, a burial plot costs upwards of £22,000[5], whereas Highland Council charge £629 for a single lair[6].

People make decisions about funerals for different reasons, including preferences of the deceased (if known), wishes of the family or next-of-kin, money available, and social pressure to provide what someone feels is needed for an appropriate send-off. Sometimes people end up spending more than they can afford for a funeral, with Sunlife estimating an average shortfall of almost £1,900 for families with financial concerns. Research has found an estimated funeral debt of half a million pounds per annum in the city of Dundee[7].   

My Research 

The research I am carrying out addresses the financial and well-being impacts of funerals, whether these impacts vary by where people live and their social status, and if so, why? 

I am looking for respondents to my online survey about funeral organisation, if you have organised a funeral and are over 18. It should take around 15 minutes to complete. It is important that the funeral was organised in Scotland, England or Wales, between 6 months and 5 years ago, for someone over the age of 18. 

The survey asks the following questions:

  • What aspects of the funeral were important to you and how did you make decisions? 
  • Were the preferences of the deceased known? 
  • What were the costs and how were these covered? 
  • Did organising the funeral leave you with any debt or financial insecurity? 
  • How did organising and being responsible for funeral payments make you feel? 
  • Did it impact on your well-being and overall bereavement experience? 
  • Did you receive a government support payment for the funeral, and, if so, how did this influence your experience? 

I would also like to interview people about their funeral-organising experiences, to understand more fully the reasoning behind decisions made and the impact this had on people’s finances and bereavement journey – both positive and negative aspects. If you would be willing to speak with me, please contact me via email or complete details in the link below. 

Thank you for helping with this research. I would really like to hear your story and be able to make recommendations about how experiences might be improved.

Online survey link: https://dundee.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/funeral-experiences-survey-main

Interview contact details link: https://dundee.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/funeral-experience-survey-future-research-contact-details  

To contact me, Ruth Bickerton, please email 080013066@dundee.ac.uk


[1] https://www.sunlife.co.uk/funeral-costs/

[2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/deathsregisteredbyareaofusualresidenceenglandandwales#:~:text=Main%20points%20from%20latest%20release&text=The%20North%20East%20was%20the,927.2%20deaths%20per%20100%2C000%20population.

[3] https://www.sunlife.co.uk/funeral-costs/

[4] https://www.cremation.org.uk/Annual-statistics-2022

[5] https://www.kensalgreencemetery.com/price-list/

[6] https://www.highland.gov.uk/downloads/file/15979/burial_charges

[7] https://discovery.dundee.ac.uk/en/publications/funeral-poverty-in-dundee-funeral-link-evaluation

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