Cost of Dying report highlights new trends

words: SAIF
Cost of Dying report

While mainstream media headlines focus on the recent drop in the price of funerals, the SunLife (2022) Cost of Dying Report itself contains an array of data and insights of key interest to SAIF members.

Perhaps chief among the statistics is the continued rise in funerals described as direct cremation. According to SunLife’s research, these accounted for 18% of funerals in 2021 (up 4% on the previous year) and costing on average £1,647 (up 6%).

Importantly, SunLife found that 64% of people are now aware of the direct cremation proposition, an increase of 5%. The typical price of a standard cremation funeral in the UK was £3,765 (down 3.1%) while burial funerals tended, on average, to cost £4,927 (a drop of 2.1%).

The study also found that 40% of the 100 funeral directors it interviewed want to see more regulation of the sector, with the report citing concerns among funeral directors about how “big companies” were harming the reputation of the profession, stating that “they were just out to make money”.

Unsurprisingly, 85% of funerals were affected by COVID-19 and social distancing measures between February 2020 and July 2021. This included fewer attendees at funerals (83% of funerals), social distancing applied (79%), no hugging or comforting (75%) and no wake (56%).

Funeral directors themselves were affected by COVID-19, with 72% saying by “a lot”. More than half of the profession (53%) felt it hadn’t been supported by the Government during the pandemic.

Looking to the future, some funeral directors interviewed by SunLife believed that large funeral gatherings had become a thing of the past thanks to the pandemic and that the direct cremation trend would continue “as a simple or straightforward funeral option”. Respondents also thought the use of live streaming services and social media sharing would carry on shaping funerals in the years to come.

A small majority of funeral directors (54%) also noticed an increase in prospective clients shopping around when choosing a provider, however, most members of the public (during June and July 2021 SunLife interviewed 1,616 people involved with arranging a funeral in the past four years) either sourced just one quote (55%) or none at all (28%).

Interestingly, 89% of funeral directors felt people spent more money than necessary on things like flowers, coffins and limousines, yet only 6% of clients felt they had purchased things they didn’t need to, suggesting most people are satisfied with the elements they had included in the funeral.

Of the top three things funeral directors wanted to see happen to the profession in the future, 40% wanted more regulation (15% more than in 2020), 18% wanted greater cost transparency and 12% wanted to see costs fall.

In summary, there are perhaps three takeaways from this year’s SunLife report:

1) The report makes no mention of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s Funerals Market Investigation Order, and this is possibly because SunLife conducted its funeral director interviews between June and August 2021, before many of the CMA Order’s requirements had been implemented. Nevertheless, SAIF’s view is that the CMA Order has not reduced the cost of funerals in the short term.

2) The report also failed to mention the sector’s emerging interest in sustainability, which has risen up the agenda in the past 12 months through initiatives such as the Environmental Stewardship Group.

3) Future research by SunLife should explore consumers’ understanding of what constitutes a direct cremation and whether a commemorative event such as a wake took place on the same day at another venue. Cheaper unattended disposals increased during the pandemic, primarily because of restrictions placed on funerals. So, it will be interesting to see whether SunLife acknowledges this in 2023. SAIF will challenge any attempt to position a return to more typical funeral packages in 2022 as a sign of above-inflation price rises. Year-on-year comparisons at the moment are rather meaningless.

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