Bereaved Dundonians are racking up more than half a million pounds in debt to pay for funerals each year, a new report has revealed.
An estimated 307 families take on an average debt of £1,744 as they struggle to give their loved ones a proper send-off, according to research published by the University of Dundee to mark Challenge Poverty Week.
The study found that locals often avoid buying food or turning on the heating in order to be able to afford services, with others borrowing money from friends or taking out loans to meet costs.
Dundonians are at particular risk, the report says, because of challenges such as unemployment and the city’s rate of drug-related deaths.
Funeral directors have been criticised for the way they do business – with “mixed approaches” in how costs are laid out and huge variances between directors in how they price broadly similar services.
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There are also geographical variances – burials and cremations cost an average of £4,194 and £3,377 respectively in Dundee.
The cost of a cremation in Perth is on average £300 cheaper than in Dundee.
Report authors Dr Carlo Morelli and Ruth Bickerton were commissioned to assess the impact of Funeral Link – a charity that provides support and guidance to bereaved locals.
Since January, the charity has assisted 21 families with funeral arrangements, helping 10 of them to save a total of £10,382.
Mary Kinninmonth, chairwoman of the charity’s board of trustees, welcomed the report.
“The comprehensive evaluation report from the University of Dundee strongly evidences the extent of funeral poverty and the need for our services,” she said.
“We hope the evidence from it will stand us in good stead as we continue to seek funding to secure the continuation of our much-needed service.”
Dundee City Council has made inroads in helping local families to avoid funeral poverty.
It launched its own “respectful funeral” service earlier this year, partnering with local funeral directors to offer dignified services on a budget.
However, Dr Morelli cautioned that additional regulation may be needed in the funeral services sector to ensure that grieving families are not exploited.
The report suggests services such as Funeral Link should become commonplace across Scotland, and that efforts should be made to increase awareness of grants available from sources such as the Social Fund to cover many of the costs.
Dr Morelli said: “We found that within the short duration of its existence, Funeral Link has provided a widely recognised, valuable service.
“It has been highly effective, by working with the funeral sector in negotiating lower costs for families in Dundee since its inception in 2019.
“However, while there is some evidence of smaller funeral directors working with families to lessen funeral debt, the largest firms in the funeral sector have been successful in increasing costs at the expense of the hardship being caused to families involved.”
The National Association of Funeral Directors has been approached for comment.