The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Funeralcare screwupdate, with added overpricing

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

It is with a heavy-hearted sense of duty that I record this beastly and deplorable allegation against Co-operative Funeralcare. You can find the full version at MoneySavingExpert.com.

Don’t use co-operative funeralcare directors they are disgusting …They failed to complete the legal documents correctly they put the wrong funeral date on the documents … We were refused entry into the crematorium chapel and were left outside in the cold distressed and in total shock, the funeral directors were an absolute disgrace they were too busy blaming the crematoria staff and they in turn were blaming the funeral directors. They threw the flowers into my mums hearse and put her photo in on its side! they showed us no respect or help at all just told us to go back to our cars because the service would not go ahead today. It was only after myself and my family refused to move and told them to get the police that they started to accept that they would have to do something so the service could go ahead. DO NOT USE THE CO-OPERATIVE FUNERAL GROUP!!!!!

Here is an all-too-familiar complaint from the Guardian:

I had problems with the accounts section of Co-operative Funeralcare. When I booked the funeral I said that I would not be able to pay for it until probate had been granted. I was told that would be fine provided I kept the accounts section informed. On the day, and before, the staff involved with the funeral were brilliant. Afterwards I began getting threatening letters from the accounts department. I explained what was happening, but the threatening letters continued, including threats of Court Action and referral to debt collectors … Obviously no company would survive if it was not paid for it’s services, but I had expected a more human approach from Co-operative Funeralcare accounts department, not just communication with a computer.

Also from the Guardian, a case of an unaccountably expensive funeral, even after taking into account the fact that the only charge the writer saved himself was the cost of a celebrant:

In the last 12 months, I have sadly lost my Mum and my wife. Mum’s funeral in South London cost £1480 (inc VAT). My wife’s funeral in Fenland cost £2950 (inc Vat). In both cases we did not make use of a vicar, but conducted the service at the crematorium myself. The only ‘extra’ was another doctor’s certificate needed in the case of my wife. We had no headstones or plaques and no announcements in the newspapers. Included in the Fenland charge was £357 for a vehicle to travel 22 miles from the undertaker’s to the crematorium. I felt , and still do feel, very ripped off … The company we used in Fenland had been taken over by the Co-Op, but hadn’t told anybody.

The following, from the Independent, are not Co-op stories. But there is a moral in them for all funeral directors, because they are going to encounter more and more demand, especially from atheists, for direct cremation:

It was my aunt’s misfortune to die on Maundy Thursday, less than 24 hours before the longest bank holiday of the year. She had donated her body to medical science … But when the day came, her donation was, maddeningly, refused … My uncle and I discussed what to do. We agreed to go for the simplest option, in accordance with what we believed would have been her wishes. I began making enquiries. I phoned six funeral directors and asked them to quote for a cremation. In London, a 45-minute slot at a crematorium costs around £500, but if you are prepared to accept an early morning appointment – 9am or 9.30am – the charge drops to less than £200. In addition, you must pay the fees of two doctors to confirm the death, amounting together to £147 … The quotes I received from the funeral directors ranged from £1,500 to £2,000. I did some arithmetic. Allowing £200 for the cremation, £150 for the doctors’ signatures and £150 for a cardboard coffin (at cost) came to £500 in all. The task for the funeral director was to collect the body from the hospital – St Mary’s, Paddington – and take it to the crematorium (Golders Green, Marylebone, Islington or – the cheapest – Mortlake). For the living, the cost of this journey by taxi would be about £30. For the dead, it turns out, it is £1,000. Dead unlucky, you could say. Next time, I plan to hire an estate car, buy a coffin and do the job myself.

And this:

My father died in 2008. He was a staunch atheist who asked for his body to be ‘offered as convenient for medical use or research and otherwise to be cremated wholly without ceremony’. The hospital didn’t manage to take up this offer so we were faced with the same problem. We were unimpressed with what seemed absurdly expensive offers from undertakers. Eventually my brother took Dad’s body from the hospital mortuary to the crematorium by van, at a fraction of the price. This was entirely successful, and it was what Dad wanted. It’s time the death industry started providing for those of us who do not want any ritual around our remains.

Do leave a comment — especially if you are a funeral director.

9 comments on “Funeralcare screwupdate, with added overpricing

  1. Friday 14th May 2010 at 4:44 pm

    […] and, so far as I know, only dedicated direct cremation service. Here is the comment he left on this post from a few days ago, and which you might have missed. I first wrote about Nick […]

  2. Friday 14th May 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Jonathan,

    You wrote “Funeral directors aren’t set up to cater for direct cremation because the demand is almost nil”. It is true that as individual firms, few traditional FDs will receive enquiries for direct cemations on a regular basis.

    You may agree, or not, that because there is little profit in direct cremation, as opposed to the traditional funeral, there is little incentive for FDs to actively promote this method of disposition.

    Because we specialize in providing the service, our costs are appropriately less than would otherwise be the case, and we pass those savings on to our clients.

    You also wrote “I’d guess a reasonable fee for direct cremation from an established funeral director would be around £1800-£2000”.

    Would it be a surprise to learn that one of London’s premier and most respected FD’s (established circa 170 years) offers such a service for £1182 (inc your disbursement figures) albeit on a local basis. Our charges for the same service would be £1147.

    Direct cremation will never be the first and obvious choice for all families, but the growing interest by “thinking people” in this choice of funeral outlines a trend away from tradition.

    We are more than happy to provide a cost effective choice for families, whilst acknowledging that traditional funerals are, on the whole, reasonably priced and good value in the UK.

    Kind regards

    Nick Gandon
    Simplicity Cremations

  3. Friday 14th May 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Well, when I started out in the world of funerals, they were just that little bit less complicated, and the “big groups” just didn’t exist, (with maybe the exception of the Great Southern Group). Even the Co-Ops were still in “bite-size” individual chunks of local business.

    In terms of evolution, 1970 was not that long ago, but in terms of business, thats another story.

    Things were simple, costs were realistic – a “regular” cremation cost between £170 – £190 depending on the catering. Few firms thought of offering pipers, doves, fireworks, novelty hearses etc., and most funeral services had humble premises – with a chapel of rest at a chosen few. The Austin princess motor hearse was King.

    Then along came big business and public expectation, driven by “what America does today”, and health and safety costs, profit margins, national advertising, working time directives etc etc.

    Now, I’ve always supported the “is there anything else I can do for you” approach of a conscientious Funeral Director, but, by segmenting the choice of Basic, Traditional and wherever else grades/costs of funerals, there obviously has to be a point where the FD draws the line.

    It could be argued that in their haste to outdo “Smith Bros” down the road, Miggins Bros Undertakers have created a financial rod for their own back, and so on across the UK. The new premises may be palatial, but the cost inevitably goes on the funeral bill.

    Local authorities set the cremation and burial costs, private enterprise follows – and therein lies the largest chunk of profit in the funeral account. A “sacred cow” which is arguably a bit of a scandal. The profit created by a council-run crematorium is substantial.

    By getting caught-up in the business rat race, most FDs have adopted the “grow or disappear” ethos. They probably have little other choice. Their accounts will reflect that situation.

    Ironic, therefore, that a growing number of “funeral buyers” actually seek the opposite of the “monster” that modern trend has created.

    Something “dignified and very simple” is a request that I hear more often these days.

    When comparing and justifing the costs of providing the elements of a funeral, few people outside the funeral profession can have the slightest idea of just how many factors come into play.
    Some FDs have built a business aimed at the more humble of us, with day-to-day costs that match. There are firms that aim their business to extract as much wonga from the public as they can possibly get away with.

    The one thing these firms have in common is the fact that their true costs for any individual portion of their service will not be the same. Thus, it’s virtually impossible to compare true like-for-like figures between Undertakers.

    The writer that compares the costs of a £30 taxi ride with the cost of providing a hearse for the same journey is, alas, not thinking through the implications of his/her comparison.

    Yes, things can be provided for a heck of a lot less than at present, but reality has to be part of the deal. It costs serious money to provide the elements of a funeral – whether a firms provides for 100 funerals a month, or just 2.

    I personally think that the funeral businesses in the UK have, to a degree, lost their way. By trying to be “all things to all people” they have created an impossible rod for their own backs – though for arguably all the right and proper reasons.

    My ethos is “keep it simple”.

  4. Thursday 13th May 2010 at 9:39 am

    Thank you, all of you, for these comments. They really do enable people to walk around in your shoes, and they do it so much more effectively than if I were to present a balanced argument.

  5. Glorianna

    Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Once again we hear family complaining the cost of a funeral is a rip (rest in peace this doesn’t mean) off, they say, they can do it cheaper themselves. Yet then go and spend thousands on a new car… yet the person they once cared about and loved possibly for many years doesn’t warrant or deserve and decent set off…

    Complaints that the person dies on a Friday and nothing can be done till Monday… ….not the fault of the funeral directors, but the crematoriums, doctors hospitals, etc. Some Cemeteries close an extra day at bank holidays..Yet the family assume that as a so called 24 hr business that what we do.. Sit in our office 24 hours a day.

    Many a time I have had to tell Doctors that if they don’t come and sign the papers in 24hrs they can tell the family the funeral will be cancelled…..

    It can make your heart sink to your toes when someone says that the cost is too high, but I think this is because they don’t realise the work and organisation that goes into arranging a funeral. All the phone calls, paperwork to be sorted and correctly signed and sent, the care of the deceased, yes ok that’s not much but still needs to be done. Trying to get hold of ministers can be a nightmare.

    Why oh why doesn’t the funeral staff explain this to the family. Yes the family can do it themselves but how many do or would really want to if they were honest…

    It’s like fitting a tap washer, do it yourself it goes wrong, then cost more, get the professional in and the work it professionally carried out.

    I recently attended two friends’ funerals, one of which was conducted by an independent FD; it was no better then the other a corporate company funeral. They were both religious funerals even though one friend didn’t want a service the FD said they would do the funeral unless they had one (Independent). The cost difference approx £200 … this was the coffin. Which was the best ….neither…they were both soulless and over in half an hour…. 2 hymns, a reading and a couple of prayers.

    As for those not wanting ceremony, they can go direct to the crematorium but this isn’t well known, although mentioned on the individual websites. We are blinked that we should use funeral directors, and if more families asked they would get this service. But the FD have wages and transport costs etc the same as any other business, when will families realise this.

  6. Jonathan

    Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 10:42 pm

    (sorry, it published itself… as I was saying…)

    Collection of body £140
    storage (average) £140
    delivery to crem £140
    bearers (x2 min) £100
    crem fee (min) £495
    doctors’ fees £147
    coffin £325

    Total £1487

    So in my neck of the woods, I’d have to charge £1500 to make almost no profit at all.

    Funeral directors aren’t set up to cater for direct cremation because the demand is almost nil. Add on an amount for upkeep of premises and equipment, and wages, and F.D’s own time (by no means nil; when you’ve got a funeral on you’ve got to have your head in that space from start to finish, so even the most perfunctory arrangements would be around 2 hours chargeable time) and I’d guess a reasonable fee for direct cremation from an established funeral director would be around £1800-£2000.

    Or, families could hire a van, sweet talk the hospital mortuary attendant, and pay around £967 to do everything without a funeral director at all (except to supply a coffin).

    When I was a builder, if a client wanted to do part of the work himself I had to load my bill because of the extra work I had to do to compensate his mistakes – so the moral is, if you want an F.D. at all, be willing to pay what he asks.

  7. Jonathan

    Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 10:18 pm

    collection: £140
    storage (average)

  8. Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 5:47 pm

    I inevitably flinch with guilt at the buoyant claims about £1200-£1750 funerals; I know it is possible, and we have done a fair few, at least towards the upper end of that. But then I remember the comprehensive advice, explanations, choices and guidance during the various meetings, viewings and many ‘phone calls needed by a family where (usually) quite a few people are involved in making the up-to-90 different decisions they say are needed for a funeral to happen. And still we – as funeral directors – are responsible for keeping the whole thing on track.
    The more things a family do themselves, the more chances there are for things to go wrong. Small wonder that many large companies work so efficiently at standardising (while claiming that they offer ‘choice’).
    Offering real choice is a mug’s game. But that’s the only way to do this job properly, and I am convinced that our fees and mark-ups are well deserved ……. even if we struggle to explain ‘professional fees’ in any way that isn’t vaguely insulting to the wonderful families – new to this game, no doubt – who want to create a truly personal and proper send-off

  9. Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Having arranged just one cremation in the whole of my life, I recall no greater or more excruciating stress than getting that second doctor to sign. Though I have a well developed sense of humour, I can never recall the experience without putting my face in my hands and moaning.

  10. Wednesday 12th May 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Our hearts sink these days when someone asks us for a quote based on what they assure us is a pared down arrangement. Often after a bit of haggling the arrangements grow until it is just as complex as an ordinary funeral. Because of the entirely understandable series of checks in place to prevent a crime going undetected, the process between someone dying and their cremation is complex, regardless of whether any family are present at the crematorium. The application still has to be filled in, so there is at least one meeting with the next of kin, and who knows how long you have to wait before a doctor decides they are able to fill out the forms. We collected an old lady from a nursing home recently, she died on a Thursday. The doctor who declared her dead has to be the one to fill out the first part of the cremation form, and this particular doctor wasn’t going back to their surgery until the week after. The form arrived at the second doctor 7 days after she had died. The second doctor then did exactly the same thing. Although the actual service was incredibly straightforward, with two people being present and no ceremony, in terms of stress generated this was one of the most difficult we have done in months, taking well over two weeks through no fault of our own. Not easy money by anyone’s standards.

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