What will it cost? – a funeral director’s viewpoint

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Funeral Director Lucy Coulbert addresses head-on the important question of funeral costs: 

I actively work as a funeral director in Oxford and have been a funeral director or carriage master for the last fifteen years.

Funeral affordability is at the forefront of a lot of media attention since the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing early this year.  Since starting my own company three years ago, affordability has become a growing problem. So much so, that it led to me starting as a separate funeral director to help those whose sole way of financing a funeral is through the Department of Work and Pensions funeral payment.

I was the only funeral director in the country to be invited to give oral evidence in my capacity as a funeral director to the Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing, be invited to a meeting to speak with Baroness Altmann and another meeting to speak with the head of DWP legislation as well as being quite outspoken on national television, radio and newspapers to highlight the problem.

Regardless of which company you chose to use and whatever your financial circumstances, should you wish to engage a funeral director, the charges should remain fair for what you have asked for.

I should point out that currently, there is no legal requirement to use a funeral director’s services and you can do absolutely everything yourself. The number of people arranging a funeral themselves is increasing and I believe there are a large number who do this in order to save on costs that they can’t afford.

There are however, a growing number who arrange the funeral themselves simply because they want to and it isn’t down to cost savings but rather that they see it as the last thing they can do for the person who has died.

It isn’t for everyone though and I can take over arrangements that families have started to do themselves and just can’t finish.

Funeral director’s costs can vary significantly. While standard charges like the crematorium, doctor’s fees, minister’s fees (religious or non religious) should always be the same, the funeral director’s own charges are the ones you need to keep your eye on and be aware of. While overall it may seem like there is very little difference between an independent funeral director and a national chain, ask for something a little out of the ordinary, and watch the costs rise.

For example, take a colourful and bespoke cardboard coffin. I wanted to make sure there was something special in everyone’s price range and this coffin would be charged at £365.Walk 20 meters to a national chain funeral director around the corner and that coffin (albeit what I consider to be an inferior copy) would be charged to you at £940.

There are other ways you could be more involved in funeral arrangements that just happen to mean you would save money.

It is increasingly common that families make their own orders of service and aside from saving £65+, it gives families something to contribute and is personal.

The same goes with flower arrangements. Again, it is common that people bring me flowers from their garden to go on top of the coffin rather than spending an average of £130 with a florist.

The most common request I am asked now is if the family can carry the coffin. There is no reason why you can’t as long as the people that want to are reasonably fit and healthy.  Again, by carrying the coffin, you can save between £45 and £65 per professional bearer.

There are some funeral chains that bundle charges together so if your family would like to carry the coffin, they can do, but you would still be paying for the bearers even when you don’t need them.

These are a few little ways that you can make a funeral more personal and be more involved in the arrangements if you wish and as a by product, could save approximately £455 straight away.

There are a lot of really good funeral directors who have their prices online. But if they aren’t, well why aren’t they? I feel if they can’t be open and honest and have them online, what are they trying to hide?

This information is vital to make good decisions. Like a lot of people, when someone I loved died, I couldn’t sleep. Although I may be a funeral director, I wanted someone else to make those arrangements for me. I just couldn’t do it.

I went online at 3am to find prices and information on local funeral directors in Devon and couldn’t find one site that would give me an indication on pricing so I had to spend a few hours the next day phoning around on behalf of my family.

Of course price is only part of the information I wanted, but an important part. I also wanted to know that the company I employed would treat my loved one with the utmost respect he deserved.

In the end, we didn’t go for the cheapest company, but the one who was open and honest and the one I felt we could trust.

I’ve given some practical ways that can make a funeral affordable and more personal, but it remains true that to make sure you are getting good value for the money you are spending, it is up to you to make sure you do some research into the right funeral directors to help should you wish to use one.

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