Funeral costs rise by up to 50%

MPs call for reform

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Religion, death and dolor  - funeral and cemetery; funeral with coffin

The cost of funerals is soaring, with prices at some cemeteries and crematoria rising by as much as 50% over the last year.

Four crematoria - Beckenham in Kent; Crawley and Chichester in West Sussex; Leatherhead in Surrey and Nuneaton in Warwickshire - are charging £956.

And burial can be even more expensive, with four cemeteries in Wandsworth all charging £4,561 apiece, data from Funeralbooker.com shows.

All in all, according to the Money Advice Service, the cost of a funeral has risen by 80% in the last 10 years to an average of £3,072.

Part of the problem is that councils have sold off their crematoria, and have to turn to private companies when carrying out public health funerals (sometimes known as pauper's funerals).

"Cuts in council funding may mean that many councils are turning to crematoriums and cemeteries to balance the books - these price increases could be a hidden cost of austerity," said James Dunn, co-founder of Funeralbooker.

And these private companies have been accused of exploitation.

While there is help with funeral costs for people on low incomes, the amount was frozen back in 2003 and now isn't enough. The Work and Pensions Committee recently heard evidence about the effects of this shortfall.

This included evidence from one mother who was forced to freeze her son's body for months while she saved enough to pay for a funeral and another who was denied their relative's ashes because they couldn't meet the final payment.

Others have been forced to turn to payday loans to cover the cost, with the British Seniors Insurance Agency finding that one in four people is forced to borrow.

The Work and Pensions Committee has called on the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the prices being charged by the big funeral director chains.

The UK's biggest funeral directors, Co-operative Group and Dignity, between them account for about 30% of the market. Dignity recently reported pre-tax profits for 2015 had grown by almost a quarter, with revenues up 13%.

Meanwhile, the Co-op recently reported a 9.9% rise in funeral sales, although it has pledged to cut prices by 7%.

Charities and MPs are calling for a fixed price for a simple funeral to be agreed with the funeral industry and the bereavement payment set at this level.

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