Category Archives: government funerals

government funerals

Are Funerals Safe These Days?

Catherine Powell of Pure Cremation

We salute those families who are choosing direct cremation in order to play their part in protecting their communities

LEADING DIRECT CREMATION PROVIDER INCENSED BY MP’S UNHELPFUL AND CARELESS APPEAL TO SENIOR CLERGY FOR RELAXATION OF LOCKDOWN MEASURES FOR FUNERALS

One of the UK’s leading dedicated direct cremation providers has branded MP’s concern that ‘the wishes of the deceased and bereaved are not being fulfilled with a proper committal in the church of their wish’ as being careless and unhelpful when families are already having to make difficult choices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter signed by 36 MP’s was this week sent to Lord Archbishops and Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England asking for church doors to reopen suggesting they should ‘consider, most intently, the pain and anguish of those families unable to have a funeral’.

The action follows UK Government regulations which limits those attending funerals to immediate family members, with councils in some areas even banning mourners altogether for a brief time. As a result, the only options available to families are either a direct cremation or very small attended funeral held at the graveside or crematorium.

Catherine Powell, co-founder and Customer Experience Director of Pure Cremation believes that the letter branding direct cremation as a “tragedy” is highly irresponsible and this language only adds to the grief and distress suffered by the bereaved.

Catherine Powell commented: “We salute those families who are choosing direct cremation in order to play their part in protecting their communities. We are proud to be able to give them valuable reassurance and comfort by sharing the inspiring stories from the thousands of families who have deliberately chosen this simple, unattended cremation as a way to break away from tradition and to take control over the farewell events.”

Since the pandemic began, Pure Cremation has been doing its utmost to support families who find themselves arranging a direct cremation even though this wouldn’t have been their first choice for saying goodbye to a loved-one.

Catherine continued: “COVID-19 has essentially stripped families of the opportunity to hold a traditional funeral surrounded by family and friends. As you can’t postpone laying a loved one to rest indefinitely, it makes great sense to hold a simple and respectful cremation without delay and focus on a proper celebration of life or thanksgiving service once the restrictions are lifted.”

Direct cremation has increased in popularity over the last five years as more people look for an alternative to the usual “funeral formula” and this is an escalating trend. Pure Cremation’s growth is evidence of this, with sales of their funeral plan doubling each year, resulting in more than 10,000 active plans in April 2020.

She adds: “Unfortunately the MPs who wrote to the Bishops on this topic seem more interested in raising their profile than considering the impact their words might have on all the bereaved families who have made the difficult decision to separate the two parts of a funeral by arranging a direct cremation.

“They should be supporting their grieving constituents by emphasising the positives – more time to plan the perfect farewell, more time to gather the memories and stories that will make the event a poignant and accurate reflection of the life that has been lived.”

An early pioneer of direct cremation, Pure Cremation is the only dedicated provider with its own crematorium and the only firm operating throughout the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Based in Andover, Hants, the company employs its own specialist team of 61 staff who demonstrate real compassion and care for the families they serve, right from the initial phone call through to the hand delivery of the ashes.

Safe Hands Application to FPA

Safe Hands application to the Funeral Planning Authority.

This is a Safe Hands update. Though there is no statutory regulation/governance of the funeral plan industry at the present time (meaning there is no official set of standards that funeral plan companies must, by law, conform to), here at Safe Hands Funeral Plans – as a company committed to ensuring customers’ best interests are served at all times – we fully advocate and support the idea of there being statutory regulation of the industry and we feel that the FPA, with its industry knowledge, experience and expertise should be given statutory regulatory status by the government (which would mean that all funeral plan providers, by law, would have to be registered with the FPA).

In May 2018, Safe Hands Funeral Plans submitted its formal application for registration with the Funeral Planning Authority. For any provider, the application, assessment and approval process can and does take several months to conclude – and here at SHFP we are as confident as we can possibly be that our all aspects of our operation will be found, by the FPA, to meet with their qualifying criteria, and that we will be successful in becoming registered with them well before the end of the 2018. In the meantime, customers should take great comfort from the fact that legislation exists, under the Regulated Activities Order (Financial Services and Markets Act 2000), that all funeral plan companies must, by law, abide by to ensure their customers’ monies are invested in trust funds that are independent (meaning the customers, not the company, are the beneficiaries of the trust fund), that the investment of the trust fund is independently managed, that the assets of the trust are independently analysed every 3 years to assess whether they are sufficient to cover the company’s liabilities (customers’ funerals, in other words), and that the company itself is independently audited. In all respects, Safe Hands Funeral Plans complies with this legislation.

Further details about the FPA and their registration process can be found at www.funeralplanningauthority.co.uk.

Fairer Finance Reports on the Funeral Plan Market.

This report was sponsored by Dignity, who are the dominant force in the UK Funeral Plan Market, and in the Funeral Director market.  Both their funeral plans and their funeral directors are expensive.   They have seen their market share drop substantially over recent years and would like to make life difficult for the upstarts.   Worst still some of these upstarts do things differently.  Even worse, some of them are supporting independent funeral directors because they are much cheaper.   And, for Dignity, if not for consumers, it gets worse.

One of the new breed of funeral plan companies is actually helping to train and set up new funeral directors and deliberately helping them to cut prices to end users.   That will obviously have a massive impact on Dignities profits in the long run.

So please do read the report with that in mind, and remember that not everyone wants their plan to include environmentally unfriendly embalming (to preserve the body) or limousines when the family can use their own cars and divert hundreds from Dignities pockets.   According to Dignity, everyone wants a service.  We have news – it is a free market (still) and people can make their own choices.  yes, they need to understand them, and anything which helps with that is to be welcomed.

One thing Dignity does not support is independent advice on the choice of funeral plans.  They prefer to give vast commissions to people who can only sell their plans – from what we understand, they may earn 50% more than we do and they don’t have to do any research! Nor do we have salespeople or a call centre!! But here is the Fairer Finance Press Release: (get the salt out!)

Unregulated funeral plan market leaves millions of pounds of consumer money at risk.

New Fairer Finance report says perfect storm is brewing of misleading sales practices, lack of consumer understanding and lack of regulation in prepaid funeral plan sector. Regulation is urgently needed to prevent a Farepak-style scandal.

Independent consumer group, Fairer Finance, in partnership with Dignity Funerals, has published a report calling for stronger regulation of the funeral planning industry.

The report, “Is the prepaid funeral planning market working well for consumers?” suggests there is significant evidence of mis-selling within the industry and that millions of pounds worth of consumers’ money could be at risk. Although the report was commissioned by Dignity, Fairer Finance retained full editorial control.

Read the full report

Funeral plans are an effective way for consumers to plan and pay for a funeral. Between 2006 and 2016 there has been a near fivefold increase in the number sold each year. As a result 1.2 million UK consumers now own a plan. It is believed that a significant proportion of this growth is due to websites purporting to be comparison sites combined with high pressure telesales tactics.

Funeral plans look and feel like a financial services product, but 75% of consumers wrongly believe their plan is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The report shows:
• There is evidence of persistent and high pressure sales practices often through aggressive third party sales intermediaries. A telephone survey of 1,001 adults over the age of 50 indicates that as many as 6 million people have been marketed to by funeral plan providers or their agents and nearly half (49%) of those contacted over the phone have been re-contacted 2 or more times, 46% agreed that they were being pushed to take out a plan when re-contacted and 63% felt this additional communication was not ‘useful’.

• Lack of clarity – Consumers do not understand the differences between plan types, are confused by industry terms and are unaware of the potential for and scale of extra costs, and other product exclusions. Over 90% of those identified as contribution style funeral plan holders wrongly thought their plan guarantees to pay for cremation costs when this was not the case.

• Mismatch of customer expectations – The research demonstrated that consumers tend not to understand what is and isn’t guaranteed by their plan. Customers buying these plans are often elderly and more vulnerable and not around to check whether the product met their expectations when a claim is made.

• Safety of consumer money – There is very poor transparency around what happens to customer money. While all money must be placed in a trust, or a whole of life policy, few providers are explicit about funding levels and where the money is invested. There is no safety net if a provider was to become insolvent.

• Lack of consumer protection – The industry is subject to voluntary regulation by the Financial Planning Authority. Some providers are not part of this voluntary regulation scheme. Third party sales firms are not even subject to voluntary regulation. Consumers do not have access to an Ombudsman service in the event their complaints are not resolved satisfactorily.

James Daley, Managing Director and Founder, Fairer Finance, said; “Funerals have become ever more expensive over the past decade, and pre-paid plans can be a great way of locking in today’s prices, whilst also ensuring your family isn’t left with this significant financial burden after you’re gone. Although there are some reputable providers working in the interests of consumers, the sector has rapidly expanded over the last few years, with our research revealing a worrying number of conduct issues and lack of consumer protection.

“The combination of a fast growing market fuelled by high pressure sales to a potentially vulnerable customer base is creating a perfect storm. A growing number of customers are likely to be let down when their plan is claimed on – with some funeral plan providers passing on significant extra costs to the families. And there is a concern that client money is not always being adequately looked after. Without intervention, we may yet see a Farepak-style collapse in this market, which leaves thousands of customers out of pocket.”

Simon Cox, Head of Insight and External Affairs, Dignity, commented;
“The sector is evolving into a two-tier market; those committed to offering quality products and services, versus those willing to “sell at all costs”, without strong governance or worry about fair customer outcomes.

“We believe a governance gap is responsible for an explosion of online and telesales organisations who have moved on from PPI and accident claims management into funeral plans. Our worry is that this situation is not sustainable, and before too long poor practice will result in one or two struggling to fulfil their obligations, leaving the rest of the sector to deal with the debris.”

Dignity and Fairer Finance are committed to working positively with consumers, government regulators and partners in the industry to explore these recommendations and encourage other plan providers to do the same. It is hoped that over the coming months, an improved consumer environment in the sector can become a reality.

Read the full report

Problems With Funeral Prices: Have MPs Been Fooled?

Problems With Funeral Prices – Why The Market Isn’t Working.

Problems With Funeral Prices

Cost of Funerals

It isn’t what some MPs think that is causing the problem. James Dunn, founder at Funeralbooker says: “Co-op Funeralcare’s sales figures (2016 ones, just released) show a widening gap in funeral costs quoted by independents and the largest chain in the UK; with the Co-op as much as 42% more expensive. There needs to be far greater transparency and online availability of the costs associated with funerals and what people should typically expect to pay. At the same time, it’s also vital that bereaved families feel supported and able to explore all their options so that they can choose the type of funeral that best suits their budget and their needs.“

The same authors research indicates that Dignity operate the most expensive crematoriums in the UK.   In fact, 17 out of the top 20 most expensive are operated by Dignity. They charge twice as much as the cheapest crematorium.

Dignity recently bought the Co-ops crematoriums, consolidating their position in the marketplace. I wonder what happened to prices?

MPs have been misled  as to the causes of Problems With Funeral Prices.

MPs have been misled into thinking that increasing sales of prepaid funeral plans are the reason for problems with funeral prices.   The truth is actually the opposite – funeral plan providers help keep prices down, which is why both Dignity (in particular) and the Co-op are increasingly taking tight control of the sales of their plans. One of the new providers is even providing training and support to increase the number of independent funeral directors in an effort to keep funeral costs escalation under control.

In point of fact, regulatory and environmental pressures are a major cause of funeral price inflation.  But Dignity’s crematoriums have a virtual monopoly in most of the areas they are in.  So funeral directors pay their prices or tell families the funeral has to be held maybe 30+ miles away where the nearest non-Dignity crematorium is.  And it might be further.

Cremation facilities are seriously expensive to set up from scratch, so it is hard for anyone to set up in competition. We are pleased to see that some are managing it though.  The harder Dignity push their prices up, the easier it will be for others to compete, but it will never be easy. Perhaps the Competition and Markets Authority should look it Dignity’s crematoriums. In effect, they are local monopolies and should be price controlled.

There is a grave (sorry!) danger of the Co-op and Dignity – who are already working closely together – will use their position in the market to push prices up further. Dignity are growing their profits handsomely – at the expense of grieving families. And they do it by hiding behind the names of the family firms they have bought out so that they look independent.

We are proud of our support of genuine independent funeral directors who tend to offer a better service at a lower cost. We intend to continue to promote the services of independent funeral directors, and the prepaid plans which help to ensure the survival of competition in the market, which is under threat.

Refused Bereavement Grant: Would You Qualify?

Grieving student nurse Refused Bereavement Grant.

Beccy Oxley is in thousands of pounds worth of debt after being refused government help for her dad’s funeral. She is a student nurse and as next of kin, she was asked to pay for the funeral which cost £3,500.  Unfortunately, the Department of Work and Pensions decided that the 30 hour a week unpaid placement she is required to do as part of her nursing course, according to the Liverpool Echo.

At just 24 and a fairly penniless student, you would have thought she would have been a prime candidate for DWP support.  But the rules seem to be set up to avoid payment if at all possible. On the face of it the Bereavement Grant should be there to support people such as Beccy. Instead, she will have a substantial debt to support whilst she continues her training as a nurse to help the rest of us.

 

In an ideal world, we would all have prepaid funeral plans rather than having to rely on either a paupers funeral or hoping to obtain a Bereavement Grant or plunge friends or relatives into debt.  In early 2017 the cost of a funeral is typically around the level of debt Beccy was saddled with.

Here are the contact details to apply for a  bereavement grant.

Call the Bereavement Service helpline.

  • Telephone: 0345 606 0265
  • Welsh language: 0345 606 0275
  • Textphone: 0345 606 0285
  • Welsh language: 0345 606 0295

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Bereavement and widows’ benefits if you’re abroad
Telephone: +44 191 21 87608
Find out about call charges

Or write to:
Department for Work and Pensions
Bereavement and widows’ benefits
International Pension Centre
Tyneview Park
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE98 1BA

You must include your:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number