The financial services company Sunlife and the investment and pensions company London Royal publish annual reports data on ‘the cost of dying’, although each approaches its calculation differently.
The overall cost of a funeral will include a fee for the burial or cremation. These are called ‘disbursements’. Burial and cremation charges vary substantially. No research has been completed on the way in which burial authorities arrive at the fees they charge, and any conclusions on the issue have to be drawn by inference and anecdote.
There are two elements to burial costs. First, there is the cost of use of the grave. In England & Wales, people do not ‘buy’ graves. Rather, people purchase the right to be buried in a particular plot. The owner of the burial right retains the right to decide who is buried in a given plot. Most people purchase ‘family’ graves where there is room for more than one interment. Right of burial is a legal contract between the right owner and local authority and can be transferred from one individual to another.
Second, local authorities charge a fee for the burial itself. Burial often takes place in existing space in a family grave is called a ‘re-open’, for which only the burial fee is payable, since the family already owns the burial right.
The grave can be dug to provide space for a flexible number, depending on soil conditions. For example, if the grave is dug for three interments, the first interment would be dug to sufficient depth to allow for subsequent burials on top. Legislation specifies the amount of space to be left between each coffin, and the depth of soil between the final coffin and the surface.
The duration of burial rights is defined by burial authorities themselves. When cemeteries were first established, burial was ‘in perpetuity’, ie forever. More recent legislation has replaced ‘perpetuity’ with a maximum term of one hundred years. Most burial authorities sell rights that last perhaps fifty years. Both public and private graves are subject to legislation on the disturbance of human remains (see ‘Isn’t it illegal to disturb human remains?’).
Burial also takes place in ‘unpurchased’ or ‘public’ graves. Local authorities retain control of these spaces, and this type of grave may contain two or more coffins of unrelated individuals where family has chosen burial but decided not to purchase a burial right.
Crematoria are owned by a mixture of private companies and local authorities. According to the Cremation Society The privately-owned crematorium at Friockheim, Angus charged the highest fee in 2021 (£1,100). The lowest fee was charged at the City of Belfast Crematorium (£392).
Cremation fees will vary: lower fees are often charged at less popular times of the day – for example, first thing in the morning.
Local authority websites usually give details of their fees and charges for burial and cremation, and the types of graves and memorials they provide.
The ICCM Bereavement Services Portal can be searched geographically and by cemetery name.
Rugg, J. (2016) ‘Cost, choice and diversity: policy issues in burial and cremation in England’, in L. Foster and K. Woodthorpe (eds) Death and Social Policy in Challenging Times, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Rugg, J. & Parsons, B. (2018) Funerary Practices in England and Wales, Bingley: Emerald Publishing.