Direct cremation: empowering choice

arms on wooden tablePeople are increasingly looking for alternatives to traditional funerals. Simon Cox, of Dignity Caring Funeral Services, explains why direct cremations are on the rise.

One of the responsibilities of the executor of a will (or administrator, if there is no will) is to examine the deceased’s finances and decide which type of funeral is appropriate.

According to Dying Matters, only a quarter of us tell someone what our funeral wishes are. In many cases, the deceased’s choice of funeral and the allocated funds are not even outlined in a will. The onus is often therefore on the family and their advisers to choose the best, or preferred, funeral option.

For the majority of people, a traditional funeral is likely to be the desire of the immediate family and of the deceased. But we now have more choice of final farewells than ever before.

We know that some families would prefer a simple, no-fuss alternative to a traditional funeral, and one that is lower in cost. To put it into context, a basic funeral costs around £3,973, and this is predicted to grow to £5,334 by 2021.

Over time, we expect to see more people move away from a one-size-fits-all funeral service, including those who want a direct cremation.

What is a direct cremation?

A direct cremation is a cremation without the funeral service, so is an alternative to a traditional funeral. The family arranges for the deceased to be collected and taken into care, and a cremation takes place without the family present. Ashes are then returned to the family, who are free to arrange their own memorial or event to remember the deceased, which can be done at a significantly lower cost, and in their own time. 

Research conducted by Dignity in 2016 shows that 53 per cent of the UK would consider this type of send-off, and this follows on from recent high-profile direct cremations.

Currently, annual unattended direct cremation volumes in the UK are estimated to be between 3 and 5 per cent of UK deaths (18,000 to 30,000 people a year), and Dignity is predicting this figure to be at least 10 per cent by 2030, as people become empowered to choose a funeral appropriate for them and their dependents.

Why (and how) to choose a direct cremation

The reasons for choosing a direct cremation are varied. It could be distance (it may be hard for family to travel to a funeral), a desire for a funeral without any religious overtones, or that the cost of a funeral is prohibitively expensive.

In response to the growing demand, many companies have therefore introduced a direct cremation service. To ensure that your loved one is treated with the utmost care, it’s wise to spend time researching the options available, so you can choose a provider with a good reputation and, perhaps equally important, the right facilities.

Some people will already have a preferred funeral director, but unless they are part of the Dignity 800-strong network, they are unlikely to own their own crematorium. We feel it is important that direct cremation is available to everyone, and we are enabling the rest of the funeral industry (and any funeral director) to use one of our crematoria for this purpose.

While direct cremation won’t be right for everyone, and for some it will not provide the closure or grieving process that a traditional funeral might, it has an increasingly important role.

It is all about offering choice. Direct cremation is not the complete answer to funeral poverty (when the price of a funeral is beyond a person’s ability to pay), but it helps to meet the growing demand for no-fuss funerals and provides and empowers people and their families with choices.

About the author

Simon Cox is head of insight and external affairs at Dignity Funerals. Dignity launched Simplicity Cremations, the UK’s first national direct cremation service, in 2016, and also provides a bereavement and telephone counselling service.

See also: We need to talk about dying and death