Cremation provider launched consumer “Pay what you Want” price for January

How would your funeral home come out in terms of profitability if you advertised a pricing method billed as “Pay what you want”?  Now, Caledonia Cremation is not your normal “Mom and Pop” funeral/cremation shop, but their January promotion is unique.

Here’s what they say on their promotional website which you can access here:

Everyone has felt the negative effects of the recent Covid restrictions. Plus everyday household bills are rising at an alarming rate. So – for those who experience a bereavement, life must seem especially difficult– especially for those from low-income households.

So, we are responding to the Covid and cost-of-living crisis by offering pay-what-you can funerals* for the remainder of January.”

Caledonia Cremation, whose website you can find here, is one of what we see as a growing number of “Not-for-profit” social benefit organizations entering funeral service.  They operate out of Glasgow, Scotland, and, in general, ask client families to “Pay what they can afford”.  The balance of overhead business costs are covered by charitable donations from the public at large.

Here’s how Caledonia’s John Halliday describes the company’s policies and rationale on the company website:

“Sadly, it is a fact of life that everyone needs a funeral. But for some people their funeral is the most expensive purchase they ever make. The average cost of a basic funeral is over four thousand pounds**. So – our contribution is this – we’ve decided to remove all our fees and just let bereaved families pay-what- you-can during this pandemic recovery period.

There is no means testing, we trust people to know what they can and cannot afford.

No one anywhere has ever done this before, so we are learning as we go.

If someone wants to know the usual price, we can tell them. If generous people want to add more towards our fundraising to tackle the root causes of poverty, that is fantastic. But if all they can find to cover the funeral is a few hundred pounds, that’s absolutely fine too.

No one should judge your worth based on the size of your savings.”

Here’s more from the Caledonia Cremation website:

“We also campaign for fairness in funerals in Scotland – fighting the problems and debt caused by UK Government funeral benefits policy and by the predatory parts of the For-Profit funeral industry. . . Any profits are always reinvested in helping people in Scotland’s poorest communities who struggle to cope with bereavement. All donations are safeguarded by going through Community Renewal Trust, the registered charity which owns Caledonia Cremation.”

Caledonia Cremation offers Direct Cremations only and if you search their website you will find that their price, including cremation ashes returned to the family, is 1,190 English pounds (or approximately $1,595 in US funds).  Here is how they describe their Direct Cremation services:

“Direct cremation is a simple funeral where there is no service at the crematorium. The deceased person is collected, cared for in a funeral home, and then at an appointed time taken privately to a crematorium. The committal is observed by one of our team. The ashes can then be scattered or collected.

Caledonia Cremation specialises in direct cremation only. We offer the same dignified service to every single person. Equal for everyone. It is not a question of rich or poor: did you know that David Bowie opted for a direct cremation?”

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Funeral Director Daily take:  The idea of a funeral home non-profit social benefit company is interesting.  More and more, at Funeral Director Daily, we hear the term “funeral poverty”.  However, we are not sure that term is any more apt than it would have been 50 or 75 years ago. Funerals and cremations cost money and there has always been a certain number in the population where the cost has been prohibitive.  In America, it is one of those societal safety nets whereby the taxpayers of the state, city, or county picked up a minimal tab for these services for those that could not afford them.

Anecdotally, I hear from funeral directors that these safety net services seem to happen more often today and the amounts set aside for payment to funeral homes seems to be less and less (and certainly not sufficient to cover funeral home costs).  That creates a problem for the profitability of these businesses that are expected to care for these people.

We recently did a story on Salvos Funerals (website here) which is the Salvation Army death care service in Australia.  I’m not exactly sure how they are supported by the Salvation Army but their price for Direct Cremation is AUS $2,395 (about $1,674 in US funds).  Their website then explains part of this cost is “a contribution back to the work of the Salvation Army”.  So, in essence does Salvo operate somewhat for-profit and then donate the profits to the greater work of the Salvation Army?  I’m not quite sure.

In any regards, I would not expect that Australia and Great Britain will have the only public-benefit, non-profit funeral homes forever.  I would expect that you will see this idea coming to the United States and there will be a certain portion of the population responsive to help pay, through tax-deductible donations, for the funerals of others.  It will be another competitive hill to climb for those in the for-profit realm.

Related Article –Phaneuf Family Foundation continues to assist local families with up to $1,000 in funeral funds.  InkLink (NH)

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  1. Jim Brodie on February 4, 2022 at 6:28 am

    This model of enterprise needs some transparent background. No one can argue with the intentions of the charity behind this endeavour but the company received a huge grant from from the Scottish Government and European Union to cover start up costs (I believe nearly £500.000). Existing for profit providers deliver this service for less and have done so for years. Caledonia Cremation have failed commercially year on year (148 families served in FY 2019-20 with a loss of £66,000) and the Directors have recently been replaced.
    Whether this stunt is a last gasp survival attempt remains to be seen but a successful (85% are) Scottish Funeral Support Payment claimant can receive far more from the State than a direct cremation costs (average of £1800 benefit compared to £1000 cost).

  2. Mark Ballard on February 3, 2022 at 7:30 am

    Really enjoy reading the articles you publish.

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