Burial costs force some families to consider cremation against beliefs

10:08 am on 7 March 2019

The increasing cost of burials is leaving low income families with no choice but to cremate their loved ones even if it's against their beliefs, the Funeral Directors Association says.

Funeral casket. Cremation urn.

Some families are facing difficult choices when it comes to deciding to how to bury their loved ones amid the high cost of burials. Photo: kzenon/123RF

People who are struggling financially can access funeral grants through Work and Income.

However, the association's president Gary Taylor said the difference between the grant and the actual cost of a funeral was causing significant hardship.

Funeral grants can be used to pay for burial plots, cremation fees, embalming and caskets.

The maximum amount people can claim is adjusted each year, in line with inflation, and at the moment that amount sits at $2058.52.

But that isn't enough, Mr Taylor said.

"It is the fact that the cost of burial in particular is outstripping families' ability to actually pay and that's causing them to make decisions that they wouldn't normally make.

"That's not good for the process of grieving."

Some families were facing difficult choices, Mr Taylor said.

"What it's tending to do is take away their cultural and religious requirements, which are often for burial, and if you like, forcing them into doing things that they don't feel entirely comfortable with, in the form of cremation."

Mr Taylor said a cremation could cost anywhere between $400 and $800.

But a burial could be much more - between $4000 and $8000.

Much of that increase is being driven by council burial plot costs.

"You're looking at fees of up to $8000 for a burial plot and you have a funeral grant to go towards the whole funeral of just over $2000.

"The gap is widening."

Auckland Action Against Poverty advocate Kathleen Paraha said for many Māori whānau, cremation was not the right option.

"It's just not the kaupapa, we don't burn our bodies. But because of the price [of funerals] putting us in poverty, we have no choice.

"But it does hurt us."

Auckland funeral director Nick Bakulich said he has noticed some attitudes were changing.

"I've seen it more over the last 10 years in particular where some people who were 'burial is the only option' are now exploring cremation and it is, by and large because of the costs."

Mr Bakulich said some families have had to weigh up their cultural or religious beliefs with getting into debt to pay for a burial.

But for others, there was no compromise and that could be a struggle.

"They've had to really exhaust their community support around the cost, then obviously if you can meet those burial costs, then downsizing other things, like the funeral service's costs."

Work and Income hands out about 5000 funeral grants a year, at a total cost of about $9 million.

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