We’re all familiar with the concept of crowdfunding being used to raise money to finance new products or rare medical procedures, but funerals?
Welcome to 2017. Crowdfunding for funerals is on the rise in England. When Big Issue seller Peter Toulson last year, a friend set up an appeal to raise £3,000 for his funeral. The friend managed to get more than £5,000 from donations through the fundraising site JustGiving.
According to figures from JustGiving, more than 2,000 funeral services were funded by crowdfunding from January to September in 2016. In the same period in 2015, there were less than 500 funerals paid for in this way.
No doubt, the rising costs of funerals plays a part in this increase. In England, funeral costs vary according to which part of the country you’re in, but on average a funeral costs roughly £3,700. This only covers the basics – a funeral director, a simple coffin and ceremony and hearse. If you want flowers, catering and a headstone, this pushes the price up considerably.
There is a Social Fund Funeral Payment that is supposed to help people on low incomes with funeral costs, but the maximum award for other funeral costs is fixed at £700 as it has been since 2003. Funeral director costs have risen steeply in that time, well above the rate of inflation.
If someone dies without money to pay for a funeral and there are no relatives who can cover the costs, often the only resort is a Public Health Funeral, sometimes called a pauper’s funeral. Research by BBC News shows that such funerals cost councils £1.7 million in 2013–14, relating to some 3,500 funerals.
Finders International set up a Funeral Fund last year to help hard-pressed local authorities and health boards deal with the cost of Public Health Funerals.
Daniel Curran, founder and managing director of Finders International, explains:
“These will be cases where there are genuinely no known next of kin – rather than next of kin who just refuse to pay. We will have done the research to prove this and when we receive an application for a subsidy, we’ll assess each case on its merits and decide whether or not we grant a payment. This might fund the funeral completely or partially. As hundreds of thousands of pounds is spent on Public Health Act funerals every year, we hope to make a small difference by giving funds to deserving cases.”
On average, JustGiving users raised £1,300 for each crowd-funded funeral in 2016. In total there were more than 52,000 donations, compared to 9,069 in January to September 2015.
People can opt for a basic cremation which costs £1,600 and just involves a cremation without a service. The singer David Bowie asked that there be no funeral or memorial service after he died last year. He was cremated shortly after he died with no family or friends present.
Talking to the BBC about crowdfunded funerals, JustGiving’s chief operations officer, Charles Wells said it could be a practical way for family, friends and the community to work together to help take the strain off families.
Image Yolande’s funeral, cc by Tom Coady on Flickr.