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.

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Maggie
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Hi Rosie

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

Rosie
Guest

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.

Maggie
Guest

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… Read more »

Rosie
Guest

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… Read more »

Mr XX
Guest
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… Read more »

Maggie
Guest

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… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

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… Read more »

Mr XX
Guest
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… Read more »

Nick Gandon
Guest

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… Read more »

David Holmes
Guest

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.

Nick Gandon
Guest

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… Read more »

David Holmes
Guest

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… Read more »

Kingfisher
Guest

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?

Nick Gandon
Guest

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… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

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.

Ru Callender
Guest

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.

Catherine
Guest

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.

Kingfisher
Guest

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… Read more »

Lyra Mollington
Guest
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… Read more »

rosie
Guest

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… Read more »