The rising cost of dying

Whether New Zealanders choose burial or cremation for their departed loved ones, the cost of dying continues to climb.

Funeral Directors Association of NZ (FDANZ) figures show that the national average fee charged by local authorities for burials has risen to $4315 in 2023-2024, up from $3077 in 2016-2017

Although considerably less expensive, council fees for the two main cremation costs – the cremation process itself, and the burial of ashes – have also risen, from an average of $605 and $877 in 2016-2017 to $809 and $1036 respectively in 2023-2024.

The costs do vary significantly in different jurisdictions. In Auckland, average council fees for burial in mid-2023 are $6112, while in Whangārei they are $3868. The most expensive part of the country to bury someone in a council cemetery is New Plymouth, where the average is $7207. At the other end of the scale, burials in Taupō cost an average of $1170 in council fees.

FDANZ chief executive Gillian Boyes says the high costs of burials in places like Auckland “really take burial as an option off the table for those of limited means, and yet we know for many of our families burial is a preferred option for cultural or religious reasons.”

The cost difference in Auckland is significant: in contrast to the high charges for burials, which cover the plot and digging fees, Auckland Council says the cost of an adult cremation at one of its facilities is $650.

(Both burials and cremations incur additional fees when held on weekends, public holidays and after hours. The figures exclude costs for the funeral director, flowers, venue, catering, headstone, embalming, and coffin or urn.)

Yet notwithstanding the difference in cost, the cultural/religious preference cited by Boyes is evidently borne out in figures supplied by Auckland Council cemetery services manager Nikki Nelson. She says over the past five years, more burials than cremations have been carried out in Auckland facilities – 15,634 burials compared to 10,855 cremations.

Although neither Stats NZ nor Internal Affairs keep statistics on cremations versus burials nationwide, FDANZ says that cremations across New Zealand over the past 20 years have outnumbered burials by roughly 2:1.

Whatever choice is made, FDANZ wants the government to boost the Work and Income funeral grant, to enable low-income families to farewell loved ones in a dignified manner. Currently, the maximum grant is $2445.

“The sad reality is that at a time when a very low-income family is hurting and grieving and just wants to remember their loved one, they are going to be faced with the added pain of a big bill,” Boyes says.

“The welfare safety net has got a whopping great hole in it when it comes to helping families with the end of life.”