"Which" magazine (February 1995) suggested that most funeral directors should be able to supply an estimate of a basic funeral, and should not be used if they cannot do so. You should reasonably expect to be given an itemised price list of the components of the funeral, which should include disbursements.
Many people are concerned about their ability to pay for a funeral. Media reports about the high cost of funerals reinforce the perception that funerals are expensive. This worry can be reduced by considering the funeral in advance. This will enable costs to be identified and possibly reduced. The information in this Charter will enable decisions to be made and quotations obtained in advance.
Some people alleviate the worry of paying for a funeral by purchasing a "Funeral Plan". For these people, several options are available. They require careful consideration in view of the extensive commercial promotion that funeral plans are now receiving. You also need to consider the possibility that the cheaper funeral options may arise in the future, especially if the objectives of this Charter are successful.
If a Funeral Plan is purchased it is necessary to choose a cremation or burial package that meets your needs. These plans need to be considered very carefully, as some of the basic options may not prove sufficient when you actually die. For instance, extra may have to be paid for viewing the body, or embalming, if these parts of the funeral were not included in the plan. The plan may also be restricted to the use of a named funeral director. The Office of Fair Trading investigated funeral plans in 1994 and has recommended a number of safeguards to protect money paid into such schemes. It is necessary to ensure that the funds are held in a trust, with independent trustees.
Funeral Plans may be paid by instalments or by a lump sum payment. This enables the funeral to be paid at current prices, without further worry about escalating funeral costs in the future. Payments can be made through any participating funeral director, or direct to "Golden Charter", "Chosen Heritage" or similar scheme.
Insurance companies offer policies to cover funeral bills, which you can pay over a number of years. Also, some funeral directors will open a joint account with you, or offer other options to deposit money to pay the funeral account in the future.
If the person responsible for the funeral or their partner is receiving certain benefits, financial help to pay for the funeral may be available from the Social Fund. A priority order has been introduced to establish who should be considered "responsible" for the funeral payment. This may be one or more relatives. No commitment towards paying the funeral should be made until the responsible person(s) has been established.
Good advice on paying for the funeral and about funerals generally can be found in the publications issued by the Benefits Agency of Social Security. These include "Help when someone dies" (leaflet FB29) and "What to do after death" (leaflet D49). Age Concern is prominent regarding their funeral advice and offers a fact sheet called "arranging a funeral". Other organisations offer help and the local Citizens Advice Bureau are a useful source of information.
The reduction of funeral costs by the use of "buyer" power does not appear to have been used in the U.K. This assumes that large, representative groups of retired and/or aged people would prepare a funeral specification that fulfils the needs of the group members. This would be sent to funeral directors who, based on a guaranteed number of funerals, may offer a lower, fixed price. This arrangement may appeal to the smaller, independent funeral director, who may carry lower overheads and be in a position to reduce costs. This arrangement does offer the group far more control over prices than would exist with any individual. The information in this Charter, together with the advice of the local Charter member, would facilitate the preparation of a funeral specification.
The ultimate cost of a funeral can be reduced by purchasing some elements in advance. For a burial, a grave can be purchased and a memorial placed prior to death. Although coffin can be purchased or constructed in advance, it is necessary to ensure that it will be used by the funeral director contracted for the funeral.
Finally, when a person dies in hospital and there is nobody prepared to arrange and pay for the funeral, the Health Authority will fulfil the obligation. Similarly, local authorities have a duty to arrange the burial or cremation of any person who has died in their area. It must appear to the authority that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made otherwise than by the authority. The local authority can reclaim expenses from any estate. If there is no estate, a basic funeral will be arranged which may include the use of an unpurchased grave.