Public is being confused by seriously flawed funeral cost research

January 27, 2020   //   No Comments

Independent funeral directors today argued that recent research on funeral prices by SunLife is seriously flawed and has potentially overstated the typical cost of a basic send-off by more than £1,000, causing unnecessary concern and confusion amongst the public.

Following a snap poll of more than 100 members of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), the association believes the average cost of a basic funeral – provided by independent funeral directors –  in 2019 was closer to £3,000 rather than the £4,417 claimed by the insurance provider.

SAIF’s research was conducted in the wake of SunLife’s Cost of Dying Report 2020 and asked members to calculate the average figure for invoices for basic burial and cremation funerals in 2019. The association required the same criteria as SunLife, in terms of the elements that comprise a basic funeral.*

One of the key concerns with SunLife’s average funeral cost figure of £4,417 is down to the fact that it appears to add together the averages for cremation and burial funerals and divide the result by two. 

This formula would only be accurate if 50% of funerals were cremations and 50% were burials, but across the UK at least 77% of funerals are cremation funerals. If this percentage split was applied to SunLife’s research, the insurer’s average cost of a basic funeral would be £4,081.

However, SAIF still thinks this is too high. The average figure for a basic funeral provided by independent funeral directors across the UK is £2,952.02 (the median figure was £2,970). Meanwhile, SAIF’s survey found that independent funeral directors’ professional fees for a basic funeral were on average £1,676.30 – again much lower than SunLife’s claimed £2,771.

If you take SunLife’s average burial costs and apply them to an independent funeral director’s average professional fees, the cost for a basic burial funeral is £3,880.30, whilst the cost of a basic cremation funeral is £2,763.30.

Terry Tennens, Chief Executive of SAIF, said SunLife’s research was causing confusion and he urged insurance companies selling funeral plans to take a more responsible approach to how they presented research on funeral costs.

“Clearly, there are concerns about the cost of funerals. There are funeral directors who have increased their fees excessively and there are people in society who need support. But the picture being painted by SunLife simply doesn’t ring true and isn’t representative of the cost of a funeral for the vast majority of people, particularly when using the services of a family-run, independent funeral director. It pains me to say it, but their research is seriously flawed,” Mr Tennens said. 

He added: “As such, we urge the public to bear in mind that some insurance companies have a vested interest in people being concerned about funeral prices. And because of the huge margin between our research and theirs, it’s clear that we need robust independent research into funeral prices by non-conflicted organisations that aren’t motivated to present figures one way or another.   

“In the meantime, our advice is to shop around and talk to your local independent funeral director, who we are confident will be able to arrange a meaningful, dignified funeral for significantly less than SunLife suggests you’ll pay.”   

Mr Tennens also said SunLife’s research was unhelpful at a time when the Competition and Markets Authority was investigating the funerals market. 

“We would hope that this research is treated with the caution it deserves by the CMA, as our survey shows that the findings are highly problematic. We’ll be sharing our findings with the CMA, as SunLife’s figures need to be challenged,” he said.

Further advice about arranging a funeral can be found at FuneralAdvice.org, a website created by SAIF to provide impartial, non-promotional information about funeral options.

*A basic funeral comprises the cost of the funeral director’s professional fees, coffin, care of the deceased, hearse, doctors’ certificates and burial or cremation fees. 

Find a SAIF Member