Bereaved families who struggle with funeral costs are taking on an average of £1,990 debt to pay for a funeral, according to the 2019 Royal London National Funeral Cost Index. The total amount of funeral debt in the UK has risen to £147m, a 12% increase from last year.

The report found 12% of people struggled to cover the cost of a funeral, which is around 74,000 bereaved families in the UK. Of those who struggled, one in four (27%) said they went into debt from credit cards, loans or overdrafts. One in five (20%) borrowed money from family or friends and nearly one in eight (12%) had to choose a cheaper funeral.

The amount spent on a funeral between income groups varies very little, as the research shows those with an income of less than £5,000 a year spend at least 65% of their annual income on a funeral, compared to just 3% at most for those on £150,000 or more a year. Yet state support for those on low income is inadequate as it only covers 39% of the cost of a simple funeral.

Funeral costs have risen in the last year and are at an all-time high, with a basic funeral in the UK costing £3,785, an increase of £28 from last year (2018 £3,758). London remains the most expensive region with a funeral costing on average £4,939, whilst Northern Ireland is the least expensive, with the average cost of a funeral at £2,943.

Kensal Green in London is the most expensive location for a funeral with the average cost at £8,150. A burial in Kensal Green costs more than £13,000 according to the research.

Belfast in Northern Ireland is the least expensive location with the average funeral cost at £2,943. With a burial in Belfast costing £3,042, the difference between the most and least expensive locations in the UK is more than £10,000.

A third (34%) of people said the funeral cost more than they expected. Despite this, a quarter (25%) of people went above and beyond their loved one’s funeral wishes, with 11 per cent of these saying they spent £1,000 more than they had discussed with the deceased.

Royal London’s funeral cost expert, Louise Eaton-Terry, said “As bereaved families continue to take on thousands of pounds of debt to pay for their loved ones’ funerals, support from the state remains woefully inadequate. The Government have tinkered around the edges and made some improvements to the Funeral Expenses Payment benefit, but the fact remains that the fund does not cover the full cost of a simple funeral. The value of the fund is seriously lacking with no serious action being taken to increase it and help support the bereaved who are being crippled with funeral debt.”

Down to Earth Manager, Quaker Social Action, Claire Brandon, said “It is concerning that funeral debt has risen yet again this year, though not surprising. With a backdrop of funeral costs continuing to rise and the Funeral Expenses Payment remaining pitifully low, bereaved families are struggling more than ever. Those on the lowest incomes could have this debt hanging over them for years to come, adding a real financial burden, on top of the emotional impact of grief itself. The government must act soon to resolve this unacceptable situation by capping funeral costs and increasing the Funeral Expenses Payment”