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Competition & Markets Authority Slams Funeral Directors & Crematoria

The CMA has published its provisional conclusions as part of its in-depth market investigation into funeral services.

The investigation has identified a number of issues:

  • Due to the inherent emotional distress people experience when arranging a funeral, they understandably tend not to spend time comparing providers. They typically choose to use a funeral director that has been recommended or is familiar to them. For crematoria, people generally select one that is closest to them geographically.
  • Pricing and product information is not provided consistently by funeral directors in a way that allows people to compare different offers.
  • The fees charged by funeral directors and crematoria increased at a rate well above inflation for at least a decade.
  • Most people believe that funeral directors are regulated, but that is not the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The investigation found that, although many funeral directors meet good standards, some are providing unacceptably low levels of care of the deceased.
  • Regarding crematoria, there are high barriers to entry in the form of the planning regime, as well as building and operating costs, meaning that crematoria are generally few and far between. Most people have little or no choice about which crematorium to use as there is often only one option within a reasonable distance.

The exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which were unforeseen when the CMA market investigation began, has had a significant impact on the investigation:

  • Due to the tragic number of deaths from coronavirus since March, there has been an unprecedented increase in demand for funerals. This has made it difficult to obtain necessary data from funeral directors, crematoria operators and local authorities.
  • The restrictions imposed by the government during the pandemic has changed the kinds of funeral services available to people. This has also made it challenging to effectively conduct research and testing into possible remedies.
  • It is difficult to forecast accurately the future revenue and profitability of funeral directors and crematoria operators. This has significant ramifications for the design and implementation of price controls as a possible remedy.
  • Some of the remedies considered by the CMA would need to be implemented by other organisations, such as local authorities, devolved administrations and central government. These have very limited capacity at this time due to the coronavirus.

This combination of circumstances highlights a serious dilemma. On the one hand, it is clear that the funerals sector is not working well and that reforms will be needed. On the other hand, the pandemic has created insurmountable obstacles to some of the solutions needed to design and implement far-reaching reform of the sector at this stage.

The CMA has no legal power to suspend or further extend this market investigation. Some of the remedies the CMA was considering, such as price controls, could not safely be introduced during a national emergency. The report setting out the CMA’s provisional conclusions on this market investigation provisionally recommends that when conditions are more stable, the CMA should consider whether a supplementary market investigation is needed.

The CMA’s provisional conclusions therefore have 3 elements:

  • Setting out clearly and fully in today’s provisional report the problems that the CMA has identified in its investigation.
  • Identifying the kind of remedies most likely to address these problems, including the introduction of price controls, whilst recognising that coronavirus inevitably means that some of these cannot be designed and implemented in the short term.
  • Implementing a set of practical and effective steps that can be taken immediately in order to protect people, such as requiring funeral directors and crematoria to be transparent in their pricing.

The CMA has provisionally decided that, in the short term, it will require all funeral directors and crematoria to provide customers with information on, and the prices of, the various services and packages they offer. This will go a long way to ensuring people have easily accessible information on services and costs to help them decide which type of funeral arrangement they require.

The CMA proposes to continue active monitoring of the funerals sector with an obligation on funeral directors and crematoria to provide the CMA with key financial data every quarter.

Other proposals include a provisional recommendation that the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland establish an inspection and registration regime to monitor the quality of funeral director services. A similar regime already exists in Scotland.

Martin Coleman, CMA Panel Inquiry Chair, said:

Given the inherently distressing circumstances in which people arrange a funeral, we want to make sure they can be confident that they are not being overcharged and that their loved one is cared for properly – this is what our investigation has focused on.

The later stages of the investigation have been conducted in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a tragic increase in death rates and has materially changed how funerals are carried out. This has had a big impact on how far we can immediately address some of the issues we have identified.

But there are remedies that are feasible and effective in the short term. We are proposing a package of ‘sunlight’ remedies which will shine a light for consumers on the pricing and practices of the sector and make sure that deceased people are cared for properly. This will ensure that the prices of funeral directors and crematoria, and the quality of the service that funeral directors provide, are exposed to greater scrutiny, helping people to make the right choices during an incredibly difficult time.

Further change in the sector is necessary but some of the remedies we were considering could not safely be introduced in the middle of a national emergency. Our proposals will hold open the door to price controls when circumstances created by the pandemic change sufficiently to permit these to be considered.

Notes to editors

Under section 131 of the Enterprise Act 2002, the CMA makes a reference to the CMA Panel Chair to appoint a Group of members of the CMA Panel to carry out a market investigation. The investigation and decisions of the Group are required to be taken independently of the Board of the CMA, and the Board’s oversight and governance role does not extend into the substance of decisions taken by the Group.

DIRECT CREMATION PIONEER SETS BENCHMARK FOR FUNERAL INDUSTRY

Pure Cremations goal is to offer the very best value and to increase operational efficiency rather than raise prices. At the Prepaid Funeral Review, we are keen to see this sector expand, but it is crucial that family and friends are aware that a direct cremation plan is in place and they won’t have the normal service at which to say goodbye.

Pure Cremation, the UK’s first dedicated provider of direct cremation, is setting a benchmark for the funeral industry to follow, leading the way on fulfilling the wish list set out in the CMA report published today.

The report, which highlights the need for a shake-up of the funeral industry, not only demonstrates that Pure Cremation is comfortably ahead of the curve but is well placed in shaping the future of the wider industry.

The report from the government-led Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) follows a two-year investigation into the inconsistent and excessive pricing for funeral and cremation services nationally.

It was prompted by the increasing costs of funeral services which for more than a decade have outstripped inflation, disproportionately affecting the nation’s poorest members of society when they are at their most vulnerable and pushing many into debt.

The most important recommendation demands transparency from all funeral directors and crematoria on pricing and ownership, something Pure Cremation has displayed on its website and literature since it opened its doors in 2015.

Bryan Powell, founder and CEO said, “Every funeral provider serves vulnerable customers and so they have a higher duty of care than other businesses when it comes to clear price and service information.”

The company is proud to be a consumer champion – holding its prices for the last 3 years, in contrast to the strongly criticised above-inflation price rises in both funeral homes and crematoria.

Bryan Powell commented, “Our goal is to offer the very best value and to increase operational efficiency rather than raise prices. We continue to make significant investments in staff, equipment and technology to achieve this.”

The CMA report recognises the increasing popularity of direct cremation – a cremation-only funeral with no mourners, no service, no church, officiant, cars or flowers. Pure Cremation was established to specialise in delivering this cost-effective, alternative farewell without any compromise in care or dignity.

This puts the company in a strong position to bring a fresh perspective to the suggested inspection and registration scheme, intended to give consumers confidence in standards of professional care and root out poor practice.

Catherine Powell, Director of Customer Experience, said: “As the leading non-traditional funeral provider we can offer valuable insights into the true needs and expectations of 21st century families and so ensure any inspection scheme is fit for purpose.”

Today’s report also highlights the difficulties faced by the bereaved when arranging a funeral, often for the first time.

Stephen Pett, of the Prepaid Funeral Review added “One of the top benefits of prepaid funeral plans is that a lot of the arrangements are already taken care of, at a price fixed (often) many years before.  A recent case showed that savings could be made only days before a death.”

The CMA is frustrated by the lack of meaningful local competition in this market, something that Pure Cremation’s presence is helping to address. With the same all-inclusive fee across the UK (including Northern Ireland), almost every family now has access to an affordable alternative to an expensive, traditional funeral.

And, thanks to their trade service, grieving families across England and Wales can even combine the services of a local funeral home with a low-cost, unattended cremation at Pure Cremation’s own facility in Hampshire.

The report rightly touches on the financial consequences of not discussing funeral wishes in advance. Pure Cremation was the first major break away from traditional funerals, and the company was the first to launch a dedicated direct cremation pre-paid plan. This is proving extremely popular with the growing number of people who want to ensure their families spend as little as possible on the practicalities by providing for those modest costs themselves.

Catherine said: “The recommendations from the CMA are already embedded in the Pure Cremation DNA and we will continue to bring innovation to this stagnant market for the benefit of all customers – whatever style of send-off they choose.”

Complaints about Prepaid Funeral Plans: It Does Happen: What To Do

funeral plan complaints

Normally, we don’t hear any complaints about funeral plans as they do their job smoothly.

However, there are two areas currently causing concern and keeping us busy trying to help, even though we have no direct involvement.  PLEASE don’t call us when you have problems, but we are always interested to know if you would be kind enough to email us using the form below.   So, the two major problems are:

  1. Funeral Plan Complaints: plans sold by phone.

We do not agree with plans being sold by phone in the first place.  But we are getting lots of calls about companies being slow to repay amounts paid ranging from £50 to £3,000 where the client cancels within the required period which typically ranges from 14 to 30 days.  Perhaps they actually read the Terms and Conditions when they finally arrive and discover the plan is not all the salesperson said it was, or maybe they just realised it was not a decision which should be made in haste.

Anyway, our advice is to phone the company immediately if you want to cancel in the initial period when you can get your money back, and take the name of the person you speak to.  Then follow it immediately with a letter, mentioning the name of the person you spoke too. Keeping a copy of the letter, and ideally, send it recorded delivery. Be aware that the procedure for retrieving cash from Trust Funds or Insurance Funds is not immediate, so as long as your refund request is acknowledged in writing or by email from the actual provider, you may need to be a little patient. It could take as long as 5 weeks or so.

2. Complaints about Funeral Plans affected by Coronavirus.

These are a different kettle of fish: many funerals have been affected, and it has been impossible to deliver the full funeral the deceased had paid for.  Not all funeral plan companies are Regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority, so they can’t help with unregulated ones.  See the providers review which should indicate if they are. We approached the Funeral Planning Authority for a statement, and this is what they said:

“What happens when some element of the plan cannot be delivered? The Funeral Planning Authority has not issued any specific guidance largely because trying to make rules to address the number of different potential situations was likely to lead to more unintended consequences.  However, if there is an element of a plan that cannot be delivered we would expect FPA registered providers to treat their customers fairly and provide an alternative service or an appropriate refund for the element of service not delivered.  For any customer or family with issues, who have plans with FPA registered providers, our advice is to have the conversation with the provider in the first instance. If that doesn’t address their concerns then to raise a formal complaint with the provider and if that is not resolved then complain to us. There is a form on our website that can be completed ( https://funeralplanningauthority.co.uk/contact-us/complaint-form/ ) or email us at info@funeralplanningauthority.co.uk .”

Clearly, not all firms are FPA Regulated, but their recommendations are perfectly reasonable.  Where the firm is unregulated, you might wish to approach the local Trading Standards Office  but you should first have complained about the fact that the funeral plan was not fully fulfilled and no sensible alternative offered, by telephone and  in writing to the provider.  Some funeral directors will actually have dealt with the matter already, by allowing extra flowers, printing or an upgraded urn etc.

We cannot resolve complaints about funeral plans, but we are interested in your experiences, so please let us know about them.

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.