Are you heading for a pauper's funeral?

Increasing numbers of UK cash-strapped families are burying family members in 'pauper funerals' - or Public Health Funerals.

The rise is due to the climbing cost of private funeral arrangements - and the sharp bump in Government Funeral Payment support rejections, typically worth an average £1,217.

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"Quite simply, it is becoming too expensive for poor people to die," says Dr Kate Woodthorpe, sociology lecturer at the University of Bath and author of a report on the issue. "Thousands of the most vulnerable in society are being let down by a system of state support that lacks coherence and is so unclear that some applicants have to resort to alternative means to organise a funeral."

She adds: "One participant in the study decided to undertake a DIY funeral, buying her mother's coffin from the internet and picking up the body from the hospital in her car. She subsequently sold the car to generate cash to pay for the funeral costs."

Woodthorpe says the UK's ageing population will likely accelerate the demand for state support funerals. Last year applications rejected for a Funeral Payment pushed up almost 7%. Given the the UK death rate is likely to rise by at least 15% each year for the next 15 years, that state support is likely to come under greater pressure.

Extra departure costs

Rising concerns about pensioner poverty funeral costs are now a huge issue for a growing number of people on low incomes. The issue can be clouded over a lack of cost transparency from some funeral company operators.

There can also be pressure - even stigma or social shame - applied to people who opt for the simplest, cheapest funeral available. (The average UK funeral now costs more than £3,000.)

The issue is made worse if Funeral Payment applicants are pushed into debt by being forced to commit to pricey funeral costs before being informed whether or not they'll get financial help from the State. Then there are also all the other related costs: non-discretionary funeral charges such as religious service fees, not to mention probate and legal costs.

Almost 7% of all UK deaths were sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions social fund funeral payments scheme last year, worth a total of £46.2 million, or around £1,217 per applicant. 34,000 people applied to the scheme but were rejected.

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