Non-profit funeral home in Doncaster saves taxpayers thousands

A not-for-profit funeral home in Yorkshire, which is the first of its kind in the UK, has saved the local council tens of thousands of pounds on "paupers funerals”.

Symeon Waller has a decade's experience as a funeral director. Pic: Gary Longbottom

Since Doncaster Municipal Funerals opened in December 2018, providing funerals at half the usual price, the number of public health funerals in Doncaster has fallen by more than three quarters.

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In the 2017/18 financial year, There were 57 public health funerals in Doncaster, each one costing the taxpayer £1,200. By 2018/19, this had dropped to just 16.

Symeon Waller, funeral director and founder of Doncaster Municipal Funerals said the non-profit organisation had provided 100 funerals in its first year, many of which were for families who could afford to pay commercial rates.

Mr Waller worked as a funeral director for a national company for nine years before launching the community interest company (CIC) which is structured so that any profit made is reinvested into the company.

He said: “I saw people coming in that were just being turned away. They’d sit down in the arranging room and they’d tell the funeral arranger what they wanted and they’d be given a price and they couldn’t afford it. Rather than asking what they could afford, they’d just say ‘well that’s the price, we can’t help you, sorry’. And then we'll just send them away.”

Mr Waller discovered that people were going to the local council, which has a legal obligation to provide a public health funeral, which usually includes a cremation with no service.

“I just thought, what if I could capture those people who were being turned away before they got to the council and try and provide them with something that's more like a funeral?”

He researched the markup on funeral products and found a coffin that was being bought by a funeral directors for £100 was being sold for £600, he said.

Mr Waller said he understood why a big company with large overheads and top-of-the-line cars needed to charge extra but he felt there was a gap in the market for a company that provides funerals at cost price, in the interests of the community.

Doncaster Municipal Funerals became instantly popular when it opened in the town centre a year ago.

Mr Waller has been asked to speak at industry conferences about what his team are doing in the community and his ambition is to expand beyond Doncaster.

“Doncaster is a small town but Sheffield is a bigger city and it would be great if we can do it there.”

The cost of a funeral has increased by 67 per cent since 2008, despite the cost of living rising just 25 per cent in that time. The average cremation now costs £8,677, a 5 per cent rise on the previous year.

In June 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the £2bn funeral market over concerns consumers were not getting a fair deal.

According to the CMA report, the average funeral now amounts to around 40 per cent of the annual salary of the UK’s lowest earners, many of whom struggle to pay for the funeral of a loved one.