Crematoria need to offer a drop-off service. Will they?

Charles Cowling


Cremation urn by Sarah Walton


We can speculate why it is that, in so-called advanced societies, the conventional funeral as an event is something dead people are increasingly bypassing. The point is that it’s happening, and demand for direct cremation (deathbed to incinerator) is growing. It is growing especially among educated liberal thinkers, precisely the constituency which was the first to adopt cremation. 

Direct cremation also makes very good sense to those who reckon cremation to be a very good way of preparing a body for a funeral. It may be extraordinary that we assign the identity of the person who’s died to a pile of pounded bone fragments, but we do. And having been so rendered, those bone fragments assume three very favourable properties that a dead body lacks: they are portable, durable and divisible. A family can hold their own funeral for ashes pretty much anywhere they like, whenever they like. No need for specialist help, no fancy cars, no hoopla. Once you’ve got your head around the notion, it can look very attractive. 

For both these direct cremation groups, the no-funeralists and those espouse the ‘rite of secondary treatment,’ together with a third group, those who wish to hold their funeral in an alternative venue, cremation as we do it in the UK offers very poor value for money. Because, whether you like it or not, you pay both for the burning and also for rental of a ceremony space you’ve no need of. Even people using the slightly less expensive early-morning slots normally get 15 mins of ceremony space whether they want them or not.

Poor value for money may be irksome to the rich but it is disastrous for a fourth group: those who urgently need to work to a budget. Recent steep rises in the cremation fee, necessitated by the installation of new emissions abatement equipment, have made an already bad situation worse. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. In the US you can ring a nice, proper man like Michael T Brown at Simplicity Memorial and he’ll arrange a direct cremation for you for $995 all in — around £660. Have a look at his website, he’s everything a funeral director ought to be – here. In the UK £660 probably wouldn’t cover the cremation, never mind the funeral director’s collection-packaging-delivery service.

Our British crems are, both, expensive ceremony spaces and inefficient incinerators of the dead. The case for uncoupling incineration equipment from crematoria is growing. An efficient, environmentally sensible incinerating plant is a standalone structure that services several crematoria and puts in a long shift. 

It’s not going to happen overnight, is it? A ‘castrated’ crematorium becomes just another funeral venue. Our crems will fight to the death to retain their raison d’etre. We say that with respect to those who run our crematoria, many of whom are far more dedicated to the best interests of the bereaved than they are credited for. 

There is a concession that crematoria might make now. A drop-off service and a cremation-only price. In terms of process there’s no need for bodies to be directly cremated, and those who have been funeral-ed elsewhere, to be carried into the chapel and placed on the catafalque. Take ’em round the back. To a seemly reception area — it doesn’t have to be very big, just decently appointed. Isn’t that a much better way of catering for those who have no need of, or cannot afford, the ceremony space?

In the east end of London, Quaker Social Action are working hard, with the help of some excellent volunteers and sympathetic funeral directors (let’s hear it for T Cribb and Sons), to enable people on low incomes to have affordable funerals. An affordable cremation fee would make a huge difference. 

A drop-off service and a cremation-only fee. Simple, logical, obvious, fair. But for our crematoria the thin edge of the wedge, too — yes, there’s the rub.

There are so, so many vested interests standing in the way. 


Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth project here.

22 thoughts on “Crematoria need to offer a drop-off service. Will they?

  1. Charles Cowling

    Hi Rosie

    Our local crem is owned by Kettering Borough Council, with the next closest one being owned by Dignity.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Hey Maggie
    Who owns your refusing crem?
    Can anyone feed me the names of compliant crem owners. I will then be in a position to advise.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Rosie, I have already spoken to our local crem regarding lower fees (at an unpopular time slot), the answer was quite simply ‘no’. I am now looking around at others within a reasonable distance to see if they can offer a better price.

    PS: we are already on the NDC map and we have recently had several calls from people who have found us there – many thanks for the referrals, with luck we’ll soon be able to offer a direct cremation service – any advice you can offer will be gratefully received.

    Mr XX (?) – ‘It told me all I needed to know about how funeral directors work’ – please don’t tar us all with the same brush, we are certainly not all the same. I welcome any queries/comments if you would like to contact me direct.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    It seems obvious to me that all FDs need to negotiate with their local crem and establish a ‘half price; or less, anti social/unpopular time slot’. This is how the sub-basic suppliers are managing to get down under 1k.

    Will all crem owners comply? Does any one know if there are companies with a nationwide policy against it?

    Disposal! Sub basic! Are there any other crude names for this I wonder? In thirteen years I have never had a family object to my frankness ie advising them that this is the sort of language they need to use. Countless times I have been thanked for being open and disclosing the more unpleasant sides of this ‘secret’ world. generally folk don’t like suspecting that they are being kept in the dark, that someone else is ‘protecting’ them – for their own good. It is more of the patronising, we know best, old school FD attitude and is not acceptable any longer, in my opinion.

    People consulting me make a point of thanking me for my insight and honesty. We usually land up having a giggle too.

    I will watch this thread to hopefully see answers to my queries. I also look forward to hearing from GFG FDs who want to go on the NDC map in offering this service. There is a demand, esp with foreign nationals and the pragmatic elderly.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Mr XX

    Some years ago, one London local authority decided they would offer residents a funeral service. They invited all the funeral firms in the borough to name their price for providing this reduced rate service. Once the prices were in, they would promote the service and the business who provided it. Once the envelopes were opened, one firm had pitched a charge at about half the local going rate for a hearse and one funeral. Surprise surprise, once the funeral directors who had lost out got wind of this, fearing loss of business, they all agreed to offer the same service at the lowest tendered price, provided it was asked for. It told me all I needed to know about how funeral directors work.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    A direct cremation service is something I have been thinking about for a while. At the moment our cheapest cremation service is approx £1850 which includes a simple coffin and a hearse (although we offer a discount if you want to provide your own transport or coffin). There is definitely a need for something cheaper (not everyone gets the help they need from the DWP), but with crem fees coming in at almost £600 and then the coffin/doc fees etc on top, I really don’t know if it’s something we can realistically offer at under £1000. I’m still thinking about it – watch this space!

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling

    There is a cynical side to me that tells me; people will dispose of their dead. It’s practically a law of physics, because they can’t leave a corpse lying about, can they!

    Further, people don’t shop around in this matter. Once they’re confronted with an undertaker, you don’t need to mend your crystal ball to know that he’s probably the one who’s going to make the arrangements for them and send them a bill.

    Now, it would seem that there are, out there, a small minority of undertakers who will use this family’s crisis to generate money to keep their businesses afloat; and the thinking may appear to be, ‘why charge less if they’re going to pay anyway?’ So perhaps it’s only if they think a family really is going to become a bad debt that they’ll produce a cheaper alternative from under the counter, rather than turn them away from the door into the greedy arms of the local press, who are traditionally only too keen to profit from the misfortune of anyone at all, and will use this family’s having been callously rejected to bad-mouth a local funeral directing business.

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Mr XX

    It’s a tough call. In reality, all funeral directors are running fixed cost businesses. The highest costs are premises, people, vehicles, advertising, insurances. The cost of all these stays the same regardless of how many funerals you do. Once you cover your fixed costs, the actual costs of doing additional funerals are low. Perhaps only a coffin, fuel and a little wear and tear. It follows that a profit is only earned once you cover all the fixed costs. That makes the sub-basic funeral a tempting prospect.

    As for offering them under the counter, I think that is exactly what some firms are doing, fearing their full price local clients will opt for the sub-basic funeral and cost them revenue.

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    The number of undertakers now offering a sub-simple or direct cremation service is growing by the week. Some are offering it openly on their existing website, some keep it “hidden under the counter” so to speak, only to be offered as a last resort, and others promote it on a separate website which may or may not clearly identify the site owner.

    Why? you may ask yourself, want to hide the identity of the undertaker?

    There are various theories.

    My favourite is that they fear comparison being drawn between their regular charges, and the cheaper offering.

    “If they can offer all that for so little, why did they charge us 3 times that amount for almost the same thing last year” I hear Mrs Miggins asking.

    It’s a difficult balance to make, and the wrong bit of misunderstood publicity could prove very damaging indeed to your average FD.

    So, it’s a bit of a gamble. Maybe lose new business, by not offering the service, or potentially undermine your existing price list.

    I am aware of a firm of undertakers which is based in roughly the same part of the country as myself. They started from scratch twenty or so years ago, and built their business up, raising the local standards as they went. A very professional firm indeed, and one that I have recommended many times over the past, but not, alas, in recent years.

    They have chosen to offer a direct cremation service, under a snappy, clicky name, without disclosing the ownership. I have to say that I could not offer all the staff, bells and whistles they provide in their fixed price service – and make a profit.

    I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of building an outstanding traditional business, then risking all by providing services at an obvious loss.

    Greed or madness? or perhaps a business venture that has not been thought through throughly……or maybe just sheer genius!

    The point I am trying to make, is that firms that decide to offer the cheaper arrangements, need to be mindful of the future implications to their business.

    Having said that, my crystal ball broke years ago…

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Thank you Nick, it must be a good thing that people who are willing to try a little harder than just going to their nearest FD, can find lower cost alternatives. I know some of the established FD’s near me think my £950 direct cremation service a mad and dangerous idea. Surely this is confirmation that I am on to something?

    I think your site is terrific, well done.

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    Hello David,
    Don’t knock yourself for promoting an honest service with a domain name that explains exactly what to expect.

    Some of the most accepted and successful names in business are often the most simple and descriptive. One that springs immediately to mind is the (now defunct) trading name of “Securicor”

    It’s very true that times are hard, but I have to say that the vast majority of my clients appear to have no immediate problems in that direction.

    It is, however, very satisfying to know that a balance is being struck, to provide the necessary and various services that our clients seek.

    The direct cremation service that I offer translates to an unattended cremation, where I understand that you offer a more involved, attended affair.

    Kingfisher – thanks for your kind words re my new site. It is a bit of quandary to work out how all the various crematory sites/authorities differ in their pricing tariffs.

    Some local authorities appear to be a little more commercially astute than their neighbours.

    Nomatter – as eventually, families will vote with their feet, and, (as they say in the entertainment world), it’s “bums on seats” that count.

    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Our simplefunerals4u website (bad name I know) offers a £950 plus disbursements direct cremation service. One crematorium offers an early morning cremation at less than £300, making a funeral potentially very inexpensive compared with most firms covering this area.

    Our simplefunerals4u service is being used most weeks, I believe this is because some people just don’t have the money for much else. Others are more aware than they were that the big firms offer only expensive packages, with no reduction made for not using their Chapel of Rest, limousine etc.

    We operate in West London, Surrey, Hants, Berks, Bucks and Dorset, but have been much further for a small surcharge. I do know of one large family firm quite near us now offering a similar service at this price – I don’t know if it’s presented to their ‘walk-in’ clients as an option? My guess is not. Typical Dignity/Co-op/Large Group charge in my area is £2,200 – £2,600 plus disbursements!

    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling

    Thank you Nick for your very open and honest explanation of how you do it. All credit to you for filling the niche in a sensible whilst still business-minded way. Your new website looks likewise excellent.

    Rupert’s local crematorium charges around about £650. The 4 nearest to here charge £480, £577, £578 and £675. Even using the cheapest one pushes me to the limit (as my above post).

    Hendon crematorium, by contrast, charges £289 (quoted on Brooks Funerals website) which makes the £995 much more realisable.

    This begs the question then, why the huge difference in cremation charges across the country?

    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    It’s easy to understand why so many FD’s might scratch their heads, and look skywards in disbelief. How can an undertaker offer a direct cremation for around a grand, and make any profit?

    The simple answer is that most can’t.

    Firstly, it’s important to “think outside of the box” – no pun intended.

    Secondly, you have to have easy local access to a crematorium that has a realistic charge for cremation.

    It helps, greatly, if your mortuary facilities are based within the crematorium grounds.

    Combine all of the above, and you have a realistic chance of offering excellent value for money, plus a return on your investment.

    Without those elements, however, even I wouldn’t bother to offer the service at anywhere near that price.

    In reply to Kingfisher, I would guess that around one third of our cremations are Coroner related, so it makes reasonable sense to promote the cost + disbursements pricing, rather than as all inclusive.

    Lyra, cold storage at the crematorium?, well yes, we offer it already in the form of our mortuary.

    As families become more aware of the choices open to them, I feel that many more will opt for, or at least seriously consider direct cremation.

    For some, however, it is just too basic. They like the idea, but require that little more contact with the process. To meet that demand I have recently ‘launched’ an additional website which gives an extended choice of simple arrangements specifically for familes local to Blackpool, Preston and the Fylde Coast – where we are based.

    If you want a peek, you can find it at (please be aware that the site is copyright – with acknowledgements to Charles for the kind loan of an excellent phrase. As substantial chunks of the copyrighted material from my existing sites now appears all over the net, I would ask that you don’t fall tempted by this one. You all know who you are…!)

    Regards, Nick

    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    I am also uncomfortable with the word ‘disposal’ becoming the default description for this type of service. It might just be semantics, but these associations go in deep.

    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    My local crematorium and doctor’s fees come to nearly eight hundred pounds. How anyone funeral director then offer a service for under £ 1000.00 is beyond me.

    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling

    Catherine, I wish you would tell us more about yourself on your website I assume your ‘terrestrial’ business to be Brooks Funerals of Barnet? Or are you just based there? There’s an anonymity about your website – an absence of human beings – which does not, I believe, inspire confidence — well, not in me. Why the two identities, if indeed your business has two identities? I am not seeking to be combative, I assure you, my question is a very open one. You sound very principled, and your prices are very fair indeed. Please tell us more about yourself! We want to recommend you!

    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling

    My site advertises prices without £147 because as you state if the coroner is involved this fee is irrelevant – how can I state crematorium charges as they are also variable, I happily do direct cremations for well under £1000 which covers everything. In fact if required I’ll even courier the ashes back and it’s still under the thousand, I think the problem is that for far too long funeral directors have done very little for over the top amounts and now they are being challenged to provide value for money, especially in the current difficult climate.

    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling

    I’ve had a look through a few of the ‘direct cremation’ websites, and I can’t find any that include doctors’ fees (£147) in their ‘below £1000’ charge. Whilst it’s true therefore that you can have a disposal cremation for under £1000, it must be fair to say that this would be relatively unusual too, and that a more realistic fee would be £1150-ish?

    For those not involved in the profession, two doctors are required to authorise the cremation, charging £73.50 each, and only if the coroner is involved are these fees waived. The coroner is not involved in the vast majority of deaths, so it would be fair to say that most clients are required to pay this fee.

    The ‘no funeral funeral’ which I advertise at £1450 includes doctors’ fees, and states that if the coroner is involved the price is reduced by £147, which I personally feel is more open.

    That said, I’m very willing to look at how this charge could be reduced even more, but to do the whole thing for £995 would prove a challenge. Take off the crematorium fee, doctors’ fees, a couple of bearers and the cost of the coffin, and I’m left with £223. That pays for the removal, looking after the body, a meeting with the client to complete the paperwork, being available for the doctors, taking the paperwork to the crematorium, taking the coffin to the crematorium 3 days minimum later, collecting the cremated remains from the crematorium. A not-unreasonable £31.85 an hour before we factor in running the storage facility, running the vehicle, providing a 24-hour telephone service …

    But of course, if someone said to me “I’ve got £1000, can you organise a direct cremation” of course I’d say yes.

    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling

    The vested interests are enormous, aren’t they, Lyra? All that plant, all those jobs. Crematoria could theoretically diversify and host community events of all sorts (why are they shut at weekends, most of them?). But they are situated sufficiently remotely to be irksome to get to for weekly drumming workshops or yoga. Take away their incinerators and they become dinosaurs.

    Cold storage is a very good idea. I am told Edinburgh has it.

    Rosie, you’re quite right: you need to die in hospital to get the best deal. Expecting a family to use the word disposal is absurd and barbaric: can’t fds interpret what people are saying to them? Tcha!

    Readers, Rosie asks you to contact her if you know of any good deals available. She’s the manager of the Natural Death Centre, and her number is 01962 712 690.

    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    Lyra Mollington

    There are so many variations that are perfectly possible – for example, you could have cold storage facilities at the crem, bringing out the coffin for the ceremony. Some families choose not to see the hearse arrive and ask to be seated once the coffin is on the catafalque. These same families will not visit the deceased in the chapel of rest. So they are paying the funeral director for elements they don’t want. Where families have to apply to the social fund for funeral payments, they still end up with a sizeable bill and being offered a range of much cheaper alternatives has to be a good thing.
    But you’re right Charles – so many vested interests…

    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling

    Morning Charles

    I get at least two calls a day about this service. I know of a couple of companies offering this in the UK, both for under £1000 including all disbursements. They will collect from anywhere for this price too. The only catch, that I can see, is if you die in a nursing home and need to be ‘housed’ locally to await the ash-cash attendance of Dr No 2.

    Regular independents can be pressed into offering this but I was disappointed recently to get a call from a family who stated that a FD who has signed our pledge to offer disposal services still quoted the NOK £2000. Most seem to offer a no viewing, no time choice, disposal for between £1200 and £1500

    It seems that families must use the word DISPOSAL, so that the FD knows they are serious and not wanting the simple, basic ‘homeshire’ 2.6k package.

    If anyone knows of other companies offering the below 1k disposal cremation could they please get in touch. Also any feedback about these companies would be useful.

    Oh and the, cremate now – gather our thoughts – memorial service later, idea is what a lot of my callers are interested in. Just had another one whilst writing this. And another…expect a call if you are in Devon from this lady.

    Charles Cowling

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