One hundred funeral directors face the threat of being named and shamed if they fail to improve the transparency of their prices.
A letter from the UK’s competition authority warns them to improve after being found not to be complying with new rules on price lists.
Consumer group Fairer Finance said it was “no surprise” that some funeral directors were failing. It wants the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to firm up the rules.
Funeral directors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are unregulated, with anyone able to set up in the trade, but the rules are different in Scotland.
In 2020, the CMA ordered that funeral directors and crematorium operators:
- make prices clearer “in a manner that will help customers make more informed decisions”
- provide information in advance so customers know what they will pay and whether there are requirements for a deposit or similar
- inform customers about a funeral director’s other commercial interests
In its first review of those rules, the CMA said that price rises had stalled, with firms charging an average of just over £2,600 for funeral services.
However, it said that 100 funeral directors – amounting to 5% of the sector – appeared not to be keeping to the rules on price transparency and it would be writing enforcement letters to those businesses.
If they failed to improve, then they would be named and shamed by the CMA, and face legal action to ensure they complied with the rules.
“Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences anyone can go through – so it is particularly important that funeral providers give their customers all the information they need,” said Adam Land from the CMA.
“We are now ramping up enforcement action to ensure that the minority of funeral providers who are breaking the rules by not being open with bereaved families will face the consequences.”
The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors says the vast majority of its members have been quick to comply with the CMA’s orders.Fairer Finance said that the rules themselves failed to go far enough.
The consumer group’s founder, James Daley, said: “It is no surprise that some are failing to abide by the rules.”
But he said the CMA should revisit the idea of price controls – something the authority temporarily ruled out owing to the impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector.
He said funeral prices, and profit margins, were still too high and more should be done to bring them down.
Price lists were often difficult to find on providers’ websites, and commonly long and complex – making it difficult for grieving families to calculate the total bill, he added.
A different system applies to pre-paid funeral plans, which allow people to plan and pay for their own funeral in advance. These have been regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority since last year.
Advice for families
There is a state safety net, the Funeral Expenses Payment, available to people in England and Wales on certain benefits, but critics say it still leaves a shortfall that has to be picked up by families. It also operates in Northern Ireland, but is claimed differently.
There is a similar scheme in Scotland, known as the Funeral Support Payment.
Tips when paying for a funeral in advance:
- Tell your family about a funeral plan, or other financial plans to pay the costs on death
- Ask questions so you and your family fully understand what is paid for and what is not covered
- Keep the paperwork with other important documents so it is easy for your family to find
- Do not pay for a funeral plan in cash as there is less of a record of payment
- When moving house, inform your funeral plan provider. The cost may be different in the area you move to
Source: Funeral Planning Authority