Revd David Primrose, Director of Transforming Communities in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Revd David Primrose, Director of Transforming Communities in the Diocese of Lichfield.

About one in seven families struggle to pay the financial costs associated with the death of a family-member. It is not just the expenses of the funeral, now averaging around £3,500. Discretionary costs linked with the funeral add up to another £1,900. Then during the period leading up to a death, any savings can be dissipated through loss of earnings, home adaptions, travel costs and the impact of reduced choice in daily expenditure. A funeral payment from the Social Fund averages around £1,200, taking four/five weeks to arrive, with 50% of applications being refused. It is not surprising that to the emotional cost of bereavement can be added the financial cost of unstainable debt.

Making financial decisions whilst in the early stages of grief is challenging, added to which is the natural desire to ensure a good ending, especially if life itself has been a struggle. However much we wish that people saved towards the cost of a funeral, for many families even talking about death and dying is too difficult. In Walsall, there are about 2,500 deaths each year, of which Anglican Ministers take over 1,600. At the beginning of June, we ran a seminar for parochial and hospital clergy, in conjunction with Midcounties Cooperative Funeral Service and Walsave, our local credit union.

The seminar confirmed that few clergy were aware of the financial context of funerals, with this being a topic seldom discussed when visiting the family to plan a funeral. There was much interest in enabling families to reduce the cost of the funeral, however the principal focus of the seminar was on the provision of a Funeral Loan from the local credit union. Walsave would give families an appointment the next working day, with a decision the following working day. A loan of £3,000 would be paid direct to the funeral directors, with interest charged at APR of 16.3%. There would be no joining or administration fee, and repayments could be spread over 60 months. Families would receive on-going financial advice and support.

The information about the Funeral Loan and other financial matters is being collated for a pack which ministers could leave with the family. After piloting the scheme in this local authority, the approach is to be replicated in other areas within the diocese. There is a workshop on Funeral Poverty at the national Taking Funeral Seriously conference, to support churches across the country engaging with this issue.

Contact David for more information.

The Fair Funeral Campaign

Heather Kennedy works for anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action (QSA) on their Fair Funerals campaign. She believes that bereaved people on low incomes have been forgotten for too long.

Everyone deserves a decent send off. Not everyone gets one. Funeral poverty - when the cost of a funeral is beyond a person’s ability to pay - has increased by 50% in the past five years.

What does this actually mean? It means if you’re one of the growing number of people with barely enough to cover living costs and someone dies, you’re likely to find yourself hit with a hefty funeral bill and no way of paying it off. 

The average funeral in 2014 cost £3,163, up 80% in ten years. At the same time, support from the state has dried up. If you’re on certain benefits you might qualify for a Social Fund Funeral Payment. But this now covers only about 35% of the full cost of a basic funeral. And if you’re in low paid work, you probably won’t get anything at all.

This is why we set up Down to Earth to help people on low incomes arrange a funeral they can afford and launched the Fair Funerals campaign to tackle the underlying causes of funeral poverty.

To my knowledge I’m the first and only Funeral Poverty Campaigner in the UK. I didn’t have a background in end of life issues before starting this job and I was gobsmacked to see how expensive funerals were.

So why do more people not know about the problem and why is no one talking about it? It’s as if we are still crippled by a Victorian legacy of shame when it comes to confronting death and money.

Buying a funeral can be expensive and confusing. And there are huge differences in what funeral directors charge. As bereaved consumers we need transparency and openness at the very time we feel least able to demand it. This transparency will come when those around us start talking about the cost of funerals and showing there’s no shame in it.

It is for these reasons we have now launched the Fair Funerals pledge. With your help we hope to encourage funeral directors in all areas of the UK to commit to:

Recognise funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.

Make their most affordable funeral package visible to the public, including third party costs.

Charge clear prices for goods and services so people know what they’re buying. Communicate prices in initial conversations and prominently display full price lists.

Funeral directors know the success of their businesses rests on local reputation, so they’ll always be interested in what people in their communities think. This puts you in a very strong position to influence the way they respond to funeral poverty.

Click the button below to ask your funeral directors to sign the pledge.

My real ambition for the pledge is that it will give people a way to start talking about funeral poverty and holding funeral directors in their communities to account.


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