Fury over surge in the cost of dying

The soaring cost of burials is putting many families into debt. Picture: Getty
The soaring cost of burials is putting many families into debt. Picture: Getty
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Call for help for families in debt because of soaring charges, writes Jeff Salway

The Scottish government has been implored to ease the financial pressure on bereaved families by taking action on soaring local authority burial charges.

High costs of a funeral are the last thing someone needs to be faced with after death of a loved one

Widowed and Young charity

Families are being driven into debt to cover funeral costs as local authorities across Scotland continue to hike their charges, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned.

The burial fees levied by Scottish local authorities have leapt by 10 per cent in just a year, according to its latest Cost of Saying Goodbye report, which said CAS bureaux had seen a surge in the number of people seeking help with funeral costs.

A growing number of low and middle income families are finding themselves unable to afford funerals for loved ones, or only being able to do so by taking out expensive short-term credit, such as payday loans.

Burial costs in Scotland now average £1,273 after increases over the past 12 months in 30 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, said CAS. However, its figures only cover burial or cremation costs. The total cost facing bereaved families can climb even higher when fees charged by funeral directors, florists, public notices, venue hire and catering are added on top.

“Organising a funeral involves a great deal of emotional and mental strength and many people are unaware of the process and just how costly it can actually be,” said Logan Steele, general manager of Age Scotland Enterprises. “For example, many funeral directors require a large deposit before the actual funeral has taken place, which means people can find themselves dealing with financial challenges at a time when they are also dealing with grief.”

Families in Scotland face a postcode lottery when it comes to local authority burial fees, the CAS report revealed.

While the biggest rise over the last year has been in Aberdeenshire, where fees have jumped 42 per cent to £1,411, the highest burial charges are in East Dunbartonshire, at £2,785. That’s more than £2,000 above the £694 charge in the Western Isles, the lowest in Scotland.

For families already struggling financially the cost of a funeral can tip them over the edge. The number of Scots asking bureaux for advice on funeral costs has gone up 35 per cent over the past year, according to CAS spokesman Fraser Sutherland.

“The local authority charges are a major problem and need to be addressed urgently. We have seen a massive increase in the numbers of Scots coming to the CAB because they can’t afford to pay these huge costs,” he said.

“We met Scottish Government ministers and will continue to work with other campaign groups to highlight these issues and campaign for change.”

Widowed and Young (WAY), a charity for men and women aged 50 or under when they have lost a partner, also called for more help with funeral costs..

“Being widowed at a young age is a terrible shock – and the high costs of a funeral are the last thing someone needs to be faced with when they are trying to come to terms with the death of their loved one,” the charity said.

There are some ways of keeping costs down, however. One is to opt for a cremation, which at an average of £601 costs half as much as a burial.

Cremation charges have risen 5 per cent over the last year, led by a 15 per cent hike in the City of Aberdeen, taking its fees to £653. The most expensive local authority for cremations is Perth and Kinross (£749), while at the other end of the scale Inverclyde charges just £512. The Scottish government’s abolition last month of the £170 charge for a medical cremation form should guard against a significant increase in costs.

An alternative is to make provisions by saving regularly into a funeral plan that pays out when it comes to footing the bill, while some people use products such as Isas and insurance endowments specifically to cover funeral costs.

“Tackling the traditionally taboo topic of dying by planning ahead, with a funeral plan for example, needn’t be morbid and could avoid future financial challenges at an emotional time,” said Steele.

“We believe that much of the anxiety felt by older people over making plans for their funeral, and the associated costs, can be eliminated through clear and simple advice on what options are available.”