Glasgow firm tackling funeral poverty with early-morning cremations

Britain's first not-for-profit funeral firm has revealed how it is helping to tackle funeral poverty by specialising in early-morning cremations.
Caledonia Cremation is helping to tackle funeral poverty.Caledonia Cremation is helping to tackle funeral poverty.
Caledonia Cremation is helping to tackle funeral poverty.

Caledonia Cremation, based in Glasgow, says using council facilities during less popular hours with no service for the bereaved family has helped it reduce costs.

The company typically books crematoriums from 8am, saving hundreds of pounds and allowing it to offer people a fixed-price funeral for an all-inclusive price of £995. “At the moment, crematoriums are not open throughout the night,” founder Paul McColgan said.

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“If you try to book a slot at the crematorium at 8 o’clock in the morning, then it’s one price. But it you go to book at noon it could be a couple of hundred pounds more.”

Asked if crematoriums should extend their opening hours beyond 8am to 4pm, Mr McColgan said: “There may be scope to think about that, but it’s a very, very traditional industry.”

The social enterprise company was set up at the start of the year, covering the whole of the Scottish mainland. The firm offers “direct cremations” – a simple funeral with no service at the crematorium.

These cremations have taken off in England as an affordable option for families.

However, Caledonia Cremation has reduced costs further by using cheaper vehicles for transport rather than an expensive hearse.

Mr McColgan said: “We have two staff who would take the body to the crematorium and they would be present at the committal. “There is no ceremony or event at the crematorium. The family would either meet before that and have a church service or memorial service or they could do that after the cremation.”

Around one in seven families in Scotland go into debt just covering the cost of a funeral and the situation has got worse in recent years. “The average price for a cremation in Scotland is about £3,500,” Mr McColgan said. “A lot of people really struggle with that and a lot of people end up getting into debt.

“Our objective is to try and create a safety net because there are a lot of people who struggle to pay the going rate.

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“The type of credit they are able to access is also a problem because it generally comes with higher interest and poorer terms. The service we offer is open for anyone.”

The so-called “poverty premium” faced by poorer communities has been highlighted by groups such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The charity said people living in poorer areas faced paying more for energy, insurance and finance, but they also dealt with the same end-of-life costs as the richest parts of society.

“The idea that you are going to have £3,500 in a bank account [for a funeral] for a lot of people living in poverty, it’s just not there,” Mr McColgan said.

“Communities get together in that situation and they basically go and do door-to-door collections, unofficially.”

A spokeswoman for Citizens Advice Scotland said it had been raising the issue of funeral poverty for years, with increasing numbers of people having trouble paying.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know funeral costs can push people into poverty and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties.

“That is why we are taking decisive action”