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MPs warn of spectre of paupers’ funerals as they call for more state support for poorer families

31st March 2016


An influential committee of MPs has warned that the UK could see a return to paupers’ funerals if government assistance for bereaved families in poverty is not increased. The Work and Pensions select committee says state help of £700 does not cover the anything like the cost of a typical simple funeral and is pushing many families into debt.

The committee chair Frank Field MP said: “We heard clear evidence of the distressing circumstances and debt this is leading people into, at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable. We do not want a return to the spectre of miserable ‘pauper’s funerals’. We urge the Government to conduct a cross-departmental review of burials, cremations and funerals, with outcomes that will address the factors driving up funeral director fees and work to reduce funeral poverty.”
The payment provided by the Government to those whose families have very little money has been frozen at £700 since 2003.

The committee received evidence that the cost of what is deemed a simple funeral has reached £2077.

Lucy Coulbert, an independent funeral director who runs not for profit firm Coulbert Family Funerals, gave a breakdown of costs for the cheapest funeral with a service.

Cost of a simple cremation funeral


Oxford Crematorium – £943

Doctor’s cremation fee – £164 (only payable if the Coroner is not involved)

Total – £1,107

Professional charges

Coffin – £120

Hearse – £265

Removal and storage of the deceased – £295 (time to collect the deceased, vehicle, staff and storage)

Three bearers to carry the coffin – £90

Minister’s fee – £200

Total – £970

Grand total – £2,077

The committee notes that the original Funeral Expenses Regulations made provision for a simple funeral service for those otherwise unable to afford one. The removal of any listed items in the regulations, and the freezing of the £700 cap for the last 13 years, has devalued the SFFP to the point where it does not cover a simple funeral.

“We recommend the Government negotiate a reasonable cost of, and items required for, a simple funeral with the National Association of Funeral Directors and The National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors. Those funeral homes that agree to offer such a funeral should be signposted in Government communications and public services for the bereaved. Furthermore, these funeral homes should be accredited as part of a fair funeral scheme.”

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