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The cost of death: 'Funeral poverty' hitting Norfolk's bereaved

PUBLISHED: 06:00 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:10 04 April 2019

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Paul Allcock
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019

Allcock Family Funeral Services Paul Allcock Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Archant 2019

Amid the sadness of losing a loved one the cost of a funeral is often the last thing the family consider. But, as ELEANOR PRINGLE discovered, the price keeps climbing

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Allcock Family Funeral Services Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Death is big business – it rakes in £2bn a year in the UK alone.

And yet it is the taboo of the service sector, with consumers putting off planning their funerals or worse refusing to talk about the process entirely.

Paired with a lack of transparency around pricing and funeral options, the public are reportedly being taken advantage of at a time they are most vulnerable.

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Paul Allcock
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Allcock Family Funeral Services Paul Allcock Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

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The CMA has launched an investigation into the funeral market, saying people’s susceptibility when organising a funeral is “making it easier for some funeral directors to charge higher prices”.

The investigation is hoping to get to the bottom of why the cost of funerals has risen at twice the rate of inflation for the past 14 years.

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Allcock Family Funeral Services Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

The average price of a UK funeral in 2017 was £3,800, excluding extras such as a ceremonial element which can often add up to near £2,000.

As a result, “funeral poverty” is an increasing issue with families unable to pay for the service they would like for their loved ones.

Paul Allcock is the owner of Allcock’s Family Funeral Services in Norwich and the government liaison officer for the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).

Mr Allcock and the SAIF have been working closely with the CMA to help inform the investigation.

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Allcock Family Funeral Services Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

The funeral director, who started his own business in 2000, has displayed his prices online since the day he opened his doors.

“I don’t see why you wouldn’t, if you’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

Mr Allcock believes that because he has been transparent with customers people are more happy to chose his company.

However, he said being transparent about price is not the only area where clarity is needed.

Allcock Family Funeral Services
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Allcock Family Funeral Services Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

“When you see a simple funeral advertised, most consumers believe they’re getting a ceremony at the crematorium, some sort of hearse, and a cremation,” he said.

“When we say a simple service, that’s what we mean – as do many other funeral homes and directors. But up and down the country there are funeral operators who are literally just a man with a van who pick up a body from a hospital, and take it to the crematorium.

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“It’s just a disposal service, which to me is wrong on so many levels if that is not what the customer wants or expects. The vast majority of the time when we explain that to people, that’s not what they want.”

The average funeral Mr Allcock and his team in Norwich’s City Road organise costs around £3,500.

However, this figure can vary between cremations and burials as in Mr Allcock’s experience, burial plots in Norwich often cost around £4,000 with an extra £1,600 fee for it to be dug.

“I’m not sure if it’s necessarily funeral poverty, it’s more a societal poverty in general. Very often there’s help available that any decent funeral director would point a genuine case to.

“Those on benefits can be given a sum towards the essential costs of the funeral, and £700 to cover extra charges. There are also charities who can help with this as well,” Mr Allcock added.

The solution, Mr Allcock says, lies within the answers the CMA finds in its investigation.

But further, he said the public should change their perceptions about planning a funeral for the sake of the people they leave behind.

“We plan for a wedding, we plan for a house, or to buy a car. But few people plan for their deaths – and that is the one certain thing that will happen,” Mr Allcock said.

“It will be a hard enough time for the people that are left behind, the best thing people can do for them is to prepare.”

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