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Empowering choice in funeral decisions

Author: Simon Cox
20 April 2017

Simon Cox, Head of Insight and External Affairs at Dignity Funerals, writes about the choice of funerals available and direct cremations.

Talking about your own or a loved one’s funeral is never easy. Like death and dying, for many it is a taboo subject and one that may not be given appropriate attention.  However, for people facing the end of their lives it can be comforting that plans are made for what happens after their death, with the help of their carers and family.

Deciding what happens to you or a loved one’s body after death requires some forward planning and thought, particularly because there are so many more funeral options available today. The traditional funeral is no longer the only, or best, option for everyone.

Purchasing a funeral is something most of us will do only a few times in our lives, and when we do, we don’t behave like a typical consumer. We tend to not compare prices or shop around, as if this were somehow in poor taste, or because we are distressed. Buying a funeral is no small outlay - to put it into context, research shows that a basic funeral is currently £3,973[1] and is predicted to grow to £5,334 by 2021[2].

On top of the costs, there are now a wealth of options and choices, from woodland burials to cremation in a bio-urn. For some, it may be that they would prefer a simple, no fuss alternative, and would prefer to arrange their own remembrance event instead of a funeral. For others, the cost of a traditional funeral is simply prohibitive.

Clinical, social and psychological support staff and volunteers caring for people and their families at end of life will have had conversations about funerals and been asked for advice. In this context it’s important to have a good idea of what services are out there and how the different elements of a funeral add up. 

Although not a new option, demand for direct cremation is increasing, meeting the need for a no fuss or low cost funeral option. Research we conducted last year showed that 53 per cent of the UK would consider this type of send off, and this follows on from high profile direct cremations, such as held for David Bowie, the singer and songwriter, who died last year.

But what exactly is a ‘direct cremation’? A direct cremation is an alternative to a traditional funeral, where the cremation takes place without a funeral service (a service in the chapel at the time of cremation is not a direct cremation). It includes bringing the deceased into care, and the cremation then takes place without a service, and the ashes are returned to the family.  This means people are free to arrange their own reception or event to remember the deceased, which can be done at a significantly lower cost and may be more personal and individual.

We know from our customers who have used our direct cremation service, Simplicity Cremations, that the reasons for choosing this option are varied. It could be distance (making it hard for the family to travel to a funeral), a desire for a funeral without a religious element, and/or that they were looking for a more affordable option

Regardless of the reasons, it is important that carers and the family understand the advantages and limitations of direct cremation. If advising people in planning a funeral, the following points should be considered in relation to direct cremation:

Is this the right option for me/the family?

We know that there are many reasons why people choose a direct cremation but grief is a complex emotion and a direct cremation, with no service or mourners present, may not be the most appropriate choice for the family trying to achieve closure. Although it will be important for most, a small but growing number of families today do not feel that an immediate ritual is necessary.

We feel very strongly that funeral providers need to address the role of grief in a direct cremation. With that in mind, we launched a direct cremation service which includes a bereavement and counselling telephone service.

Check the costs – are there hidden extras?

What’s included in the price? The amount quoted in the headline might look reasonable, but it may not cover all the costs. Ask your direct cremation provider whether there are extra costs for collection when death occurs in a hospice or a home, extra costs for transporting a heavier body and even the fees paid to the crematorium (believe it or not some providers do not include these in their fees). Lastly, while it is usually free to collect ashes after a cremation, some providers may have extra fees to return the ashes.

Delays can increase costs. If the family of the deceased is eligible to receive the state benefit, (Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payment), there may be significant delays to the process, meaning the provider needs to look after the deceased for longer, with a potential knock on effect on costs.

Doctors’ Fees: Fees cover the medical certificates that are required for the cremation to take place but are not always applicable (for example in Scotland, and where a death is referred to the Coroner). You will be advised if this fee is required or not.

Out of Hours Care: It is normally acceptable for the deceased to be collected when the family are ready, and it need not happen in a rush. However, if you ask to have the deceased moved into care outside of normal working hours, there may be additional costs

Do you want face to face contact to sort out the details?

Not all providers of direct cremation offer a face to face service or assist with the completion of paperwork. If you would prefer to do this in person, a national provider may be a better option.

If you already have a preferred funeral director, they will be able to offer direct cremation as our crematoria are now available to any funeral company.

Direct cremation won’t be the right decision for everybody.  But for some, this alternative and low-key option may be the perfect farewell.


To find out more visit Simplicity Cremations, owned by Dignity Funerals


[1] Matter Communications 2016

[2] Dignity based on data from Matter Communications 2011-2016

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