Ashes to ashes: Britons follow David Bowie in choosing direct cremations | Money

The “cost of dying” is continuing to rise, figures out next week are expected to show. But the good news for those on a tight budget, or who simply don’t want a big fuss made, is that the cost of the very cheapest type of funeral is falling.

Direct cremation” is a low-cost, no-frills option where there is no funeral service and mourners aren’t present. In its most basic form it is – to put it bluntly – a disposal service. Prices start at less than £1,000, which is just a fraction of the £3,500 to £4,000-plus average funeral cost.

But while this type of send-off will not be everyone’s cup of tea, demand for direct cremations appears to be growing rapidly as more people – including those who could afford to splash out on something more lavish – opt for this type of funeral.

That certainly applied to pop star David Bowie, who died of liver cancer in January 2016 and was reportedly secretly cremated without any of his family or friends present after telling loved ones he did not want a funeral service. His ashes were scattered on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Simplicity, the recently launched direct cremation arm of funeral giant Dignity, says it saw a 400% increase in people buying direct cremations in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, specialist firm Pure Cremation has reported a tenfold increase in sales, and says that as the middle classes embrace the concept, “it will become more mainstream”.

So what’s the appeal? Partly it seems to be that by separating the actual cremation from the farewell, it means the family can organise a more personal memorial service, ash scattering or celebration of the deceased’s life in their own time.

Insurer SunLife will next week publish its 2018 “Cost of Dying” report, which will reveal the latest rise in the cost of a standard funeral. However, ahead of the launch, the company has shared with Guardian Money details of its findings relating to direct cremations. It found that the average price has fallen by almost 7% in a year – from £1,835 to £1,712. London saw a 22% fall – from £2,463 to £1,911.

According to SunLife, currently only about 2% of cremations are direct services – which suggests about 8,000 a year – while Simplicity says it is 2% of all funerals. But there is clearly a potentially huge appetite: SunLife’s research found that 98% of people did not want a lavish funeral, while 47% of those who had recently organised a funeral had not heard of a direct cremation. However, once this option was explained to them, 19% said they would have considered it for the deceased, and 44% said they would consider a direct cremation for their own funeral.Similarly, Simplicity’s research found that more than half of people (55%) would be willing to consider having a direct cremation. Men (59%) were slightly more likely to consider one than women (52%).

As with standard funerals, there is a great deal of variation in price, and in what you get for your money. Simplicity and Pure Cremation charge from £1,095 and £1,195 respectively, while one of the cheapest providers we could find was BB Funerals in Barnet, north London, which charges £949.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that those choosing direct cremations “tend to be in the higher socioeconomic groups”, according to a report from insurer Royal London published this week.

Catherine Powell, co-founder of Pure Cremation, says people who are choosing direct cremation are seeking greater control over how they spend their money. She adds that when it comes to the business of saying goodbye, “they want to choose the how, the where and the when”.

When her firm launched at the end of 2015, it was doing around 20 direct cremations a month. By the end of this year it expects that to have risen to about 200 a month. However, Powell says: “There will always be a demand for the traditional funeral.”Royal London says its research suggests direct cremation “is not an attractive option for all less affluent consumers, many of which would still prefer to give their loved ones a more traditional, full-service send-off”. But the firm points out that it is increasingly available via mainstream funeral providers.

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