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Funerals probes ‘should encourage greater transparency’ in industry

The cost of funerals is under scrutiny by the treasury and CMA. Picture: Ian Burt

The cost of funerals is under scrutiny by the treasury and CMA. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2010

Moves to bring more transparency into the UK funerals market have been welcomed by the East Anglian head of a national industry body.

Investigations into the industry – worth £2bn annually – have been announced by both the treasury and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in an effort to crack down on “rip-off” prices and make information on fees clearer for customers.

Particular focus will be given to pre-paid funeral plans, which have been accused of taking advantage of vulnerable customers.

Paul Allcock, former president of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) and now the body’s government liaison, hoped the investigations would bring “more openness and clarity” for the public about funeral pricing.

“There has always been an element of the unknown about what happens behind a funeral director’s door,” he said.

“I have heard that some larger companies have been charging well over what I could consider a fair rate. If that is the case, it needs to be stamped out.”

Mr Allcock, from Allcock Family Funeral Services in Norwich, said the average cost of a funeral in East Anglia is now around £3,500 – but that an “explosion” in cremation and cemetery fees, also being investigated by the CMA and treasury, ­were pushing costs up.

While the government has created some solutions to address funeral poverty – such as direct cremation, where a deceased person is collected and taken straight to a crematorium for a discounted rate – Mr Allcock said families may be missing out on the chance “to say goodbye”.

“A lot of people need help and guidance at that difficult time, and there is a cost for people’s time and expertise,” he said.

A spokesperson for the East of England Co-op Funeral Services said: “We have long championed transparency of pricing for funerals. We welcome any move that helps to ensure those arranging a funeral or planning ahead, are treated fairly and are able to make a fully informed decision.”

Ann Cobbold, director of independent firm Kevin Cobbold Funeral Services in Norwich, said large funeral companies could be “secretive” about their price structures.

“We have always been concerned that the big corporate companies buy up smaller funeral directors, which only results in them raising prices and lowering the quality of service,” she said.

Pre-paid plans

One area of particular focus in the investigations by the Treasury and CMA is pre-paid funeral plans.

Offered by funeral directors and insurance providers, these plans see people pay for their funerals through monthly instalments.

It has been estimated that almost 1.5 million people in the UK have one of these plans – but they have already drawn criticism from consumer groups, and have now piqued the government’s interest.

According to ministers, around 95% of the market is currently voluntarily regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), which lacks the power to prevent providers from trading.

Paul Allcock, from Allcock Family Funeral Services, said pre-paid plans were a “growing area” but that a number of plans coming onto the market are “not governed or regulated”.

“There are certainly risks in that from a financial perspective,” he said.

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