Increasing burial costs are causing concern. Photo / Mead Norton
More of Rotorua’s kuia and kaumātua are taking up funeral insurance to prevent a financial burden on their whānau as increasing burial costs prompt funeral directors to call for greater Government support.
In Rotorua, the
cost to bury someone has increased 8 per cent to $ 2766 for the purchase of a plot and burial fee. The cost did not include a casket, hearse fees, or any other likely bills.
In Tauranga, Hastings, Nelson and the Far North, there have been “significant jumps,” according to the Funeral Directors Association.
The association surveyed 17 councils, not including Rotorua, regarding new burial costs and found the average burial cost was now over $ 4000, contributing to a national average cost for a modest funeral of about $ 8400.
However, the Work and Income Funeral Grant offered by the Government for people struggling to bury their loved ones was $ 2280.70.
Association chief executive Gillian Boyes said this mattered because Māori and Pacific families were “disproportionately represented amongst those applying for the grant, and it’s these families for whom burial remains the preferred funeral option.”
“Our funeral directors have significant concerns about the wellbeing impact of them not being able to farewell their loved ones in a culturally appropriate way.”
The association proposed increasing the funeral grant to $ 6300, “close to the funeral grant available under ACC”.
Boyes said the Work and Income grant was not a handout for everyone and was designed for a small group of the most vulnerable “already struggling with significant post-Covid cost-of-living increases”.
“Our funeral directors have to sit in front of these grieving families and tell them they probably can’t have the funeral they want. It’s deeply unfair on both families and on the funeral directors,” Boyes said.
Rotorua Budget Advisory Service manager Pakanui Tuhura the association was “right that the cost of funerals is significant and not everyone has … estate that can be used to cover these costs”.
Tuhura said the majority of the service’s clients were Māori and culturally, Māori and others would come together as a whānau to cover the costs of tangihanga either through work and / or koha. Costs were often minimized through the use of marae and whānau resources.
However, the service had noticed an uptake of funeral insurance “by our kaumātua and kuia who have recognized the increasing costs of tangihanga and don’t want to be a burden on their whānau,” he said.
“They justifiably take pride in organizing for the payment of their tangihanga costs through insurance payouts or from their personal estate, if they leave any behind. The one thing that is usually off the table is the sale of Māori land shares to cover these costs because these go to the whānau. “
Tuhura said the service had advised people to set up a funeral costs account with a registered funeral director “and pay in what they can rather than be stuck with ongoing and monthly premium payments”.
Previously, some older people have not been able to keep up the insurance premiums and it has lapsed or the value of the payout diminished over time, he said.
“This is why if a kaumātua or kuia wants funeral insurance it is probably a better idea to get the whānau to cover the premiums since they are the ones who will receive the payout in the end.”
Tuhura said the funeral grant was not available to everyone and often costs such as the coffin, transport, venue, embalming, etc fell back on whānau to cover. This was okay if the whānau was large and well connected but not all were, so he did not believe the funeral grant would adequately cover costs.
Others in the industry were also finding ways to make funeral costs more affordable. Some funeral directors were offering things such as non-embalming, and there was the Rotorua coffin club where people could make their own coffin to reduce expenditure, he said.
Kiwi Coffin Club Charitable Trust’s Leslie Glynn said funeral costs were on the minds of most people who came through their doors as it was “a way of keeping costs down”.
“We do find people coming to us for sudden occasions saying ‘we need one now, do you have anything?'”
The costs of caskets often spiraled into thousands of dollars. The coffin club offered theirs for hundreds, which also included the opportunity for people to personalize coffins as they please.
“They are well made, well finished and people are appreciative of that. It’s just another cost so we are glad to offer a service to help those who might not be able to afford it.”
Glynn said she was supportive of the association’s call, “anything to make it easier for customers.”
Rotorua Lakes Council manager of sport, recreation and environment Rob Pitkethley said the increase in fees was done to recover increasing costs for cemetery services. However, the council had “kept the increase as low as possible, recognizing that this is always a difficult time for whānau”.
ACC has been giving funeral grants since its inception on April 1, 1974. Since then, the rates change every July 1 in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index.
In 2002, the rate was $ 4500, in 2012 it was $ 5879.81. This year, it is $ 6569.53.
Acting deputy chief executive for service delivery Phil Riley said the grant covered costs that could include burial or cremation, casket, hearse fees, purchasing a burial plot and even transportation to the funeral. It could also be adjusted to reflect clients’ changes in earnings or cost of living, he said.
“Flexibility is to be emphasized, understanding that the grant can be spent on a broad range of items, with acknowledgment that the appropriateness of a funeral expense is subjective and will vary depending on the deceased client’s culture, religion, and personal circumstances unique to their life, “Riley said.
Ministry of Social Development director of client service delivery Graham Allpress said it wanted to provide as much support as it could when someone lost a loved one.
The Work and Income funeral grant was for people who had no other means of meeting the costs of a funeral or tangi. It was not intended to cover the entire cost but, like ACC’s, could be used for cremation or burial, casket, death notice costs, and more.
The funeral grant was established in 1991 and last reviewed in 2003.
Allpress said the grant was linked to the Consumer Price Index and any decision to increase grants was a matter for ministers.