WHEN Mhairi’s mother died, she couldn’t afford the funeral.

It didn’t help that the funeral director in Dundee upsold her items she didn’t need – like embalming – and didn’t offer cheaper alternatives.

In her distressed state, Mhairi accepted the bill at just under £3000 – with no car or order of service. As a low-paid worker, she didn’t qualify for government support either.

"We didn't have any savings, We just work month-to-month to pay our bills and live basically,” she said. Because of this, Mhairi was forced to take out a pricey loan.

The cost of living isn't the only thing skyrocketing in the UK. Dying is getting more expensive, too.

Over the last 18 years, the average cost of a funeral has increased by 115%, according to a report by SunLife, a financial services company.

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In 2004, a basic funeral would set you back around £1835. In 2020, this figure had soared to £4184. 

In 2021, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA ) ordered funeral directors and crematorium operators to make prices more clear for customers. This followed a 2-year probe into the industry over the large price hikes, hitting people at their most vulnerable. 

Since then, average prices have decreased slightly to £3953 in 2023. In Scotland, it sits at £3848.

However, the cost of dying doesn’t stop at a funeral. Rising professional fees such as probate and send-off costs like food and venue hire have caused the overall cost-of-dying to increase to £9,200.

“It’s a cost-of-dying crisis,” says John Halliday, CEO of Community Renewal Trust – an anti-poverty charity body that includes Caledonia Cremation, Scotland's first not-for-profit funeral directors.

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He added: “The vast majority of families in this country would not be able to rustle up £2000 to £3000 in cash to pay a funeral director's deposit.

“That's not even the full balance of the funeral which is due by the funeral date, say in a week or two.”

For this reason – and with a cost-of-living crisis to boot – many families across the UK and Scotland are forced into debt, with 19% of families experiencing notable financial concerns when paying for a funeral according to the report.

The Scottish Government – via Social Security Scotland – does offer financial support to Scots as part of the Funeral Support Payment. However, it usually won’t cover the full cost and is only available to those on benefits.

Those who simply can’t rustle up enough money for a deposit are often left in limbo, their loved ones laying in the morgue for months on end. If you pay the deposit for a cremation but can’t settle the final bill, funeral directors have also been known to withhold ashes until you do.

Halliday said: “This is why people are going around doing crowdfunders, begging from neighbours and family members, taking loans from dubious sources, putting it all on a credit card, and selling their possessions just to raise enough cash.

“But there are options. It’s important that people know that.”

Caledonia Cremation specialises in not-for-profit direct cremation. A simple unattended cremation with no service, they are the most affordable type of funeral.

When Laura’s close friend Adam died, it’s what she ended up choosing for him. Although, she didn’t have much of a choice.

When she went to two separate funeral directors in Ardrossan, Laura was horrified by the cost. Even the cheapest, most basic option for a burial was £3900 – which she couldn’t afford.

She said: “I don’t know how they can justify it during a cost-of-living crisis, how they expect people to have that kind of money lying about.”

The difficulty was that Adam had often spoken to her about how he wanted his funeral to be. The 73-year-old didn’t have any family and Laura and her husband were his next of kin.

He’d planned it all – where he was going to be buried, which pastor he wanted, which hymns were to be sung.

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“It makes it worse for us,” Laura told me. “He knew specifically what he wanted and we couldn’t give him that. It’s the guilt, because this is the last thing you’re ever going to do for your friend.

“But there wasn't any other option we could do. We’d been thinking about a pauper’s funeral but then we wouldn't have known where Adam was buried.”

There have been hundreds of public health funerals – sometimes known as ‘pauper’s funerals’ – across Scotland in the past five years. Paid for by the local authority, where the relatives are either unwilling or unable to pay, most are cremated, although a sizable amount are still buried in unmarked graves, known as a common grave, that may be shared with other people.

Laura keeps Adam’s ashes on her dining table. She thinks about him every day, whether it’s memories of walks on Ardrossan beach or at the local library.

She said: “He was just one of these people that if he could do something for you, he would do it. He would take in drug addicts and homeless people – he never judged. He was just a godly man, a really nice person.”

*Mhairi's name has been changed as she wished to remain anonymous.