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Avalon Funeral Plan Coup

Avalon celebrates exceptional feedback after being named ‘Best Funeral Plan Provider’ at this year’s Personal Finance Awards.

Stephen Pett of the Prepaid Funeral Review said “I was pleased to receive Avalons Press Release (below) which clearly shows they are one of the most improving providers in the crowded prepaid funeral plan market. As one gets better, all the rest have to try harder to get an edge – which makes our Independent Advice even more important.”

Avalon Funeral Plans is celebrating a coveted award win after being named ‘Best Funeral Plan Provider’ at the 2019 Personal Finance Awards.

Now in its 22nd year, the Personal Finance Awards has long been recognised as a benchmark for excellence in the UK’s consumer finance market, providing a reflection of the consumer’s choice of top financial providers over the last two decades.

Nominations for the awards are sent in directly by the consumer, based on their experience of outstanding products or customer service in the industry. This year, the awards received just over 20,000 votes.

With over 25 years’ experience providing funeral plans to more than 70,000 customers across the UK and Europe, Avalon was recognised for its dedication to its customers, as well as the high standard of its service.

These qualities are continuously reflected in the company’s industry-leading customer feedback, with over 2,000 reviews and a rating of ‘excellent’ on Trustpilot, as well as a five-star rating on Defaqto, lending justification to the company’s esteemed award win. So trusted is the brand that someone chooses an Avalon funeral plan every 10 minutes*.

Avalon’s prepaid funeral plans are designed to give customers peace of mind, working with a network of 1,800 local, independent funeral directors across the UK to ensure that families always have support close to home.

Avalon’s commitment to putting the customer at its heart is also reflected in the unique features offered in their plans when compared to other funeral plan providers. The Avalon Promise, launched earlier this year, reassures customers that if they pass away before their plan is fully paid, Avalon can cover the cost of the services included in their funeral plan.

The Promise offers increased peace of mind for Avalon’s customers, and the company is the only plan provider that works with local, independent funeral directors to offer this.

The award win follows a successful period of growth for the business under a new senior management team led by CEO, Susan Stevenson.

Speaking about the award win, Avalon’s CEO, Susan Stevenson, said: “There are few other industries in which taking care of the customer, their journey and their family is quite so important.

“We like to think we’re different to other funeral plan providers in that we go the extra mile in helping customers and their loved ones when they perhaps need it most.

“It’s our promise to always put our customers at the centre of what we do, and the fact that we’ve been recognised for our efforts – particularly by such a widely renowned awarding body as the Personal Finance Awards – really means the world to us.”

Regulated in the UK by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), Avalon employs more than 200 people at its offices in Cheshire and across Spain, The Canaries, Portugal and Cyprus.

The company is flexible in offering customers three different ways to discuss their requirements and their range of funeral plans.  They can speak to a specialist advisor in the comfort of their own home, or over the phone, or 24/7 online.

For more information, and to find out if Avalon plans would be right for you, contact Steve at the Prepaid Funeral Review on 0800 0588 240.

*Based on sales of funeral plans over the period January – December 2018, by home appointment or over the phone, during standard trading hours.

Equity Release Council Improves Consumer Protection

New Council Standards provide higher level of consumer protection than any other form of property-based loa.n

  • The Council’s Standards set best practice benchmark by providing a higher level of consumer protection than any other form of property-based loan
  • Update provides protection for consumers who face complex decisions in a growing later life lending market to support their quality of life in retirement
  • Milestone builds on nearly thirty years of work to safeguard and protect consumers

The Equity Release Council has launched its updated industry standards, in the largest evolution since the organisation was established in 2012 as the representative trade body for the UK equity release sector.

The update introduces an approach based on principles and consumer outcomes, which reflects the latest thinking in financial services regulation and complements the existing rules, safeguards and protections. It sets the benchmark for best practice by providing a higher level of consumer protection than any other form of property-based loan. Its purpose is to ensure that equity release products and services continue to deliver good outcomes for customers, who face increasingly complex decisions in an evolving later life market and regulatory landscape.

An extensive consultation took place earlier this year among the Council’s membership, including providers, advisers, solicitors and surveyors. It also drew on external input from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), HM Treasury and the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS). The process was overseen by the Council’s Standards Board, made up of industry professionals and independent regulatory experts*.

The resulting update will be effective from 1st January 2020 and builds on the work which began when clear consumer-focused equity release product standards were first introduced in 1991. The standards have continually evolved since then and have been fundamental to establishing trust in the market, which has supported nearly 500,000 customers to meet their retirement needs during that time.

The standards framework

The Council’s standards go above and beyond statutory regulation and legislation to ensure that members’ products and services conform to best practice when helping customers to make financial decisions in later life. In the past year, membership of the Council has increased to more than 300 firms and 1,000 individuals who commit to this benchmark.

Diagram one: Equity Release Council Standards framework

Source: Equity Release Council, 2019

As well as refreshing and simplifying many rules, the latest standards’ update reinforces the existing focus on providing appropriate support to customers who may be exposed to physical, mental and financial vulnerability at any point of contact. Customers of Council member firms receive three levels of protection, encompassing a structured financial advice process; clear product safeguards; and independent face-to-face legal advice. The latter is particularly important in keeping with the Mental Capacity Act, which identifies solicitors among those professionals who can assess whether someone has the capacity to enter into a contract and is not under duress from any third party.

Chris Pond, Chair of the Equity Release Council’s Standards Board, comments: “The standards are fundamental to the Council’s work to lead a customer-focused market, and today’s launch is an important milestone in nearly thirty years of protecting consumers’ interests. The aim of the review was to ensure that the standards reflect emerging trends in regulation and are future proofed for a world where retirements needs are constantly changing.

“The renewed focus on principles and outcomes alongside existing rules and guidance will help to ensure that equity release products and services continue to meet customer needs. The standards which Council members commit to, above and beyond their regulatory duties, provide the ultimate reassurance to consumers that equity release products are safe and reliable.”

David Burrowes, Chairman of the Equity Release Council concludes: “The UK population is ageing rapidly, and people are having to make increasingly complex decisions over longer lives in retirement. Elderly consumers face a wide range of products and services to meet different and often competing needs – from providing additional retirement income and meeting the costs of care to providing early inheritance to family and friends.

“Today’s landscape demands a joined-up approach to later life financial planning that considers all wealth and assets. Longstanding provisions for equity release customers, such as the guarantee of independent legal counsel, have set a high benchmark for delivering advice in the later life arena. Our updated standards build on these guarantees to ensure they are fit for modern day purposes. They recognise that the best outcomes can often be achieved in different ways, by combining clear rules with overarching principles which all members sign up to. These will continue to evolve in future to meet the ever-more complex challenges facing consumers.”

Dignity Funerals Declare War!

Dignity Funeral Plans, like all of the major players in the prepaid funeral plan market have been significantly affected by the large number of new entrants into the funeral plan market, some with very aggressive sales techniques. But Dignity are fighting back to maintain their market share, and the first salvo was the dramatic price reduction until 30th April 2019. They have also formulated a 3 year plan to fend off the invaders (not quite their words!) Why not contact us to see if a Dignity Plan would be right for you? More on their plans here.

Mike McCollum, Chief Executive of Dignity plc, commented:

“2018 marked the beginning of a period of radical change for Dignity. We reduced our funeral prices, created a broader range of choices for clients and embarked on plans to transform the business by the end of 2021.

Our vision is to lead the funeral sector in terms of quality, standards and value-for-money. To achieve this we are building a more coherent, cohesive and technology-enabled business, one geared to meeting the changing needs of our customers. I am pleased with the progress we made during the year, we built momentum and our Transformation Plan is on track. A lot of work remains to be done, but I am confident that with our highly experienced staff and the new transformation expertise we have brought in, we will achieve our goals.

2019 is likely to mark the start of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (‘CMA’s) investigation into our industry. Our surveys demonstrate that the majority of clients assume the funeral industry is regulated, when it is not. Some may assume that they will receive the same quality of service from different operators irrespective of price. They will not. I am proud that underpinning all of the changes we are making to our business is a continued, relentless commitment to the highest levels of client service. This commitment makes me confident that we have the quality necessary to achieve our ambition of getting ahead of the competitive curve, leading the industry and providing sustainable growth.”

Preliminary results for the 52 week period ended 28 December 2018

Dignity plc (Dignity, the Company or the Group), the UK’s only listed provider of funeral related services, announces its preliminary results for the 52 week period ended 28 December 2018.

Financial highlights52 week period ended 28 December 201852 week period ended 29 December 2017Increase / (decrease) per cent
Revenue (£million)315.6324.0(3)
Underlying operating profit (£million)80.2104.6(23)
Underlying profit before tax (£million)54.477.8(30)
Underlying earnings per share (pence)85.8128.3(33)
Underlying cash generated from operations (£million)101.9115.4(12)
Operating profit (£million)66.398.0(32)
Profit before tax (£million)40.571.2(43)
Basic earnings per share (pence)63.0115.8(46)
Cash generated from operations (£million)94.9112.5(16)
Interim dividend paid in the period (pence)8.648.64
Final dividend proposed in respect of the period (pence)15.7415.74
Deaths599,000590,0002

Alternative performance measures

All measures marked as underlying in the table above and throughout this Preliminary Announcement are alternative performance measures. The reasons for the Group’s use of alternative performance measures, definitions and where relevant, reconciliations are provided in the section on alternative performance measures at the end of this announcement.

Key points

  • Number of deaths as expected;
  • Comparable funeral market share increased slightly following significant declines in 2016 and 2017;
  • Simple funeral pricing reset;
  • Unbundled funeral replacing full service package;
  • Simplicity service offering expanded;
  • Transformation team in place;
  • 3 year detailed Transformation Plan established;
  • Good performance from crematoria; and
  • Pre-need environment remains challenging.

Assist Funeral Plans Ltd

We have never had any dealings with Assist Funeral Plans Ltd which appears to be no longer trading. We were approached by a member of the public who had purchased an Assist Funeral Plan and was unable to get any response from them.  In theory, the clients’ funds should be perfectly safe in the Assist Funeral Trust – but we have as yet been unable to find out who manages that or where it is located.

Company details are available here (direct download from Companies House._

The Director is listed as GORDON, Michael Thomas.

His correspondence address was listed as 5 Jupiter House, Calleva Park, Aldermaston, Reading, Berks, United Kingdom, RG7 8NN (the address of UK PLC Registrations).  Mr Gordon apparently held 882 directorships!  Another address was Trevor Cottage, The Green, Horsted Keynes, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 7AW.

The only shareholder of the company was listed as Sibtain Mohammed Hussain.

The address listed for Sibtain Hussain seems to be an accommodation address at 3rd Floor, 207 Regent Street London W1B 3HH. Again, we contacted them on 12th December 2018 to see if they could help -(update) they have had no dealings with Assist at all and advise me that they occupy the whole building.  so this route won’t help: accommodation address agencies are required to confirm the identity of their clients, so if they were being used they should have more information.

We contacted the Funeral Planning Authority and this is what they had to say about Assist:

We recommend you contact the FCA Unauthorised Business Unit using the following email address: consumer.queries@fca.org.uk and request information on Assist Funeral Plans.  You can do this directly or through Trading Standards / Citizen’s Advice.  It may also be worth registering your concerns with the Police using the action fraud website (https://www.actionfraud.police.uk).  Assist Funeral Plans were not registered with the Funeral Planning Authority but the FPA will provide assistance to you if you and they can and can be contacted at info@funeralplanningauthority.co.uk.

A further disturbing article appears here.

If you have any further information please do let us know, with our Funeral Plan Watchdog hats on.

Survey: Effects of Death and Bereavement

Findings of UK’s biggest ever survey into death and bereavement reveal almost 18 million people are uncomfortable effects ofdeath and bereavementtalking about death.

  • 4 million people have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death.
  • The average Brit first suffers a bereavement of someone close to them aged 20.
  • Co-op supported by leading national charities is seeking to drive social change to tackle this last taboo.

Over 30,000 people have come a step closer to tackling the taboo of death, as Co-op reveals the findings of the UK’s biggest ever survey into death, dying and bereavement*.

The survey commissioned by Co-op, conducted by YouGov and supported by a coalition of national charities, was opened to the nation in May (2018). It is the first time national attitudes towards death have been looked at on such a scale.

The findings, released in a broader report “Making Peace With Death”, highlight that further action is needed to tackle the nation’s last taboo. The research uncovered attitudes towards mortality, bereavement and the way in which the nation plans ahead for death.

Highlighting the extent of the last taboo, the report reveals that almost 18 million people are uncomfortable talking about death**. Almost 5 million people say they are too uncomfortable to talk about their own death at all, with almost 13 million UK adults saying they are uncomfortable, but would be willing to talk.

Whilst we aren’t at ease talking or opening up to others about death, according to the findings, as a nation, people do think about their own mortality:

  • 91% of Brits have thought about their own mortality, with women (93%) more likely to consider their own death than men (90%.)
  • 26 is the average age people first think about their own mortality.
  • A third (35%) think about their own mortality once a week or more.

Findings highlight that life events and external news reports are amongst the top 10 reasons people consider their mortality:

Considering mortality

Perhaps as a result of this, when it comes to experiencing a bereavement, the national taboo is having a detrimental impact. Findings reveal that:

  • For half (47%), the death of a close relative or friend is their first recollection of death.
  • A seventh (14%) of those who have been recently bereaved (i.e. in the last 5 years) said that after the death, nobody knew what to say or do.
  • A sixth (16%) of those recently bereaved kept it to themselves, possibly to avoid having that “chat.”
  • A quarter (24%) kept as busy as possible, whilst. 12% got back to work as soon as they could.
  • Whether the death*** was expected (50%) or sudden (39%) altered the way in which the bereaved were able to cope.

Further findings highlight that grief remains hard to deal with long after a death. For many of those who were recently bereaved, the period immediately after finding out about the death (52%) or during the funeral (46%) were amongst the most difficult. However birthdays (26%), the anniversary of their death (25%), Christmas or religious festivals (21%) and the return to work (12%) were also referenced as times when it was hard to deal with grief.

In response to this, to help increase awareness about how to better support the bereaved, using the findings, the Co-op has produced the below guide, highlighting the most and least helpful things people have done for the bereaved following a loss.

bereavement

A further area uncovered through the research, is how the taboo is leading to a failure to plan ahead.

  • Across the UK, 81% of people have not yet saved anything towards a funeral.
  • Nationally people have a good awareness of a what a funeral costs, with people thinking it is £3750 on average.****
  • Over a quarter (27%) have written a will, just one in 20 (6%) have nominated a lasting power of attorney and only 5% have put a funeral plan in place,

Highlighting the impact of this, over 4 million UK adults may have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death*****.

Co-op is working with key national UK charities, including British Red Cross, Child Bereavement UK, Cruse Bereavement Care, Dying Matters, Remember a Charity and Sue Ryder to drive social change. This work will look at the following gaps identified by the research:

  • A greater support network and guidance for employers to assist managers with supporting colleagues following a bereavement.
  • A shift in the national language used to talk about death moving to more direct conversations and a national campaign for a more open culture that breaks the taboo.
  • Opening up new networks for bereaved families and individuals ensuring there are more natural opportunities for them to seek support and contact with others following a death.
  • Greater focus on the interactions with death and mortality in the early stages of life to understand better the role of education in preparing us for one of lives hardest events.

Robert MacLachlan, Managing Director of Co-op Funeralcare and Life Planning, said:

“We see increasingly that a failure to properly deal with death has a knock on impact for the bereaved, affecting mental health and also triggering financial hardship. We’re committed to doing right by our clients and more needs to be done nationally to tackle this.

“It’s overwhelming that the survey led to 30,000 people sharing their views. Now that we have such a wealth of insight on what stops the nation engaging with death and bereavement, we can start to address these areas and work with others to drive genuine social change.”

Julia Samuel, author of the bestselling book Grief Works, comments:

’’This Co-op survey being on such a large scale is both convincing and fascinating. It gives us concrete evidence of the extent that death is unvoiced in our society and shows that we need to find a way to bring those thoughts and fears out into the open.

’’The fear of talking about death, both their own, and of those they love, means that people are not receiving the support they most need at the time, and following their bereavement. This support is the predictor of their outcome, for good or ill. When someone dies it is the love and support of others that enables us to heal and find a way of living again.

’’I welcome this survey as part of the wider Co-op campaign to improve the support and care of bereaved families.’’

Carol McGiffin, Television Broadcaster, commented:

’’Death, dying and bereavement are unavoidable experiences that impact all of us, so it’s incredibly eye-opening to see how many of us are still uncomfortable talking about it. Having experienced a life threatening illness myself, I now have a completely different perspective on mortality and have realised how important it is to come to terms with it.

’’It’s so important that these conversations become more of a norm and that it doesn’t take something drastic to trigger them. I’m sure that the work the Co-op is doing and the findings of its survey will help to drive positive change.’’

Notes:
*Co-op’s biggest ever survey into death dying and bereavement was conducted by YouGov from 7th May to 25th June 2018 among over 30,000 UK adults. Further detail on the study can be found in Co-op’s media report

** Population figures calculated by the Co-op, based on YouGov figures.

For those uncomfortable about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 33.25% chose “Not at all comfortable – I won’t discuss it” or “Not very comfortable – but I am willing to talk about it” Mid-2017 UK 16+ ONS population estimate = 53,534,872 33.25% of 53,534,872 = 17,800,344.94 For those who won’t talk about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 9.00% said they were “Not at all comfortable – I won’t discuss it” 9.00% of 53,534,872 = 4,818,138.48 For those who are reluctant to talk about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 9.00% said they were “Not very comfortable – but I am willing to talk about it” 24.25% of 53,534,872 = 12,982,206.46

*** Based on bereavements experienced in the last 5 years

**** According to Co-op data, the average UK funeral cost in 2017 was £3,944 including our costs and third party fees

*****Population figures calculated by the Co-op, based on YouGov figures. For those who have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death: When asked if they experienced financial hardship as a result of someone close to them passing away, including having to meet your partner’s share of the mortgage, to pay more bills, taking time off work = 7.58% said they had 7.58% of 53,534,872 = 4,057,943.30

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