Council warns undertaker about soliciting

Charles Cowling

 

Back in July we posted a report about an unsatisfactory Co-op Funeralcare-arranged funeral: “Beverley Webb and Michelle Blakesley said the way Co-op Funeralcare handled Gloria Roper’s service was ‘shambolic’ after one worker said: ‘We’ve brought out our 4.15pm instead.’” Read it here.

The matter we publicise today is Beverley and Michelle’s allegation that the Weymouth branch of Co-operative Funeralcare, acting as the Coroner’s agent, solicited business from them.

Very few bereaved people who have had an unsatisfactory funeral experience follow through. Most shrug and leave it all behind — understandably. It’s why the NAFD receives so few complaints, and is able to point to that as descriptive of the excellence of its members.

The rights of the bereaved are defined and reinforced by cases like this. We all owe Beverley and Michelle a debt.

First, an email from Steve Cheeseman, Business Support & Facilities Manager Dorset County Council:

 

Dear Ms Blakesley and Ms Webb

Once again, I was sorry to read of the difficulties you experienced with the Co-operative FuneralCare at Weymouth following the sudden death of your mother.

I have discussed your complaint with the Western Dorset District Coroner (Michael Johnston) and the South West Sector Manager of Co-operative FuneralCare Services.

Generally, Michael Johnston is happy with the service provided by Co-operative FuneralCare. 

Section 1.14 of the Dorset County Council’s contract for Coroners Removals states:

“The contractor shall not, under any circumstances, actively canvass relatives or friends of the deceased with a view to carrying out the funeral arrangements.  Any infringement may result in the removal of the contractor from the Coroner’s list.  The contractor may leave their business card with the bereaved, but shall, in addition, leave with them a leaflet issued by the Coroner which provides relevant information regarding the arrangement to be made.  The contractor may carry out funeral arrangements if the relative of the deceased makes the initial approach.  It must not be implied to any bereaved family that the contractor must be instructed to carry out the funeral arrangements.  No pressure must be exerted on the bereaved families to attempt to obtain instructions to carry out the funeral arrangements.”

Co-operative FuneralCare has confirmed that their business card was left together with the Coroner’s leaflet.  However, I have written to the Weymouth Co-operative FuneralCare Service reminding them of the terms of the contract and that any breach would result in a review of their contract.

The County Council is responsible for supporting the Coroner in his work, but this does not include the provision of services provided by the funeral directors.  You may be aware, already, that there is a National Association of Funeral Directors and members of the Association are required to abide by a stringent code of practice.  The Association’s professional standards board is responsible for investigating complaints about the conduct of its members and they can be contacted on  0845 230 1343 should you require any further help.

As stated in my earlier e-mail to you, I have dealt with your complaint under Stage 1 of the County Council’s complaints procedure.  If you are not satisfied with the outcome of my investigation, you can ask for your complaint to be considered under Stage 2 of the procedure by writing to the Chief Executive.  

Regards, 

Steve Cheeseman
Business Support & Facilities Manager
County Hall 

 

Here’s text of the Council’s letter to Funeralcare:

 

Dear Ms Lee 

I have received a complaint from Ms Blakesley and Ms Webb relating to the service provided by you following the sudden death of their mother, Gloria Roper.  Their complaint is that you used your contractual position to solicit business and that this was in breach of the contractual agreement with the Dorset County Council.  

I write to remind you that Section 1.14 of the County Council’s contract for Coroners removals states that: 

“The contractor shall not, under any circumstances, actively canvass relatives or friends of the deceased with a view to carrying out the funeral arrangements.  Any infringement may result in the removal of the contractor from the Coroner’s list.  The contractor may leave their business card with the bereaved, but shall, in addition, leave with them a leaflet issued by the Coroner which provides relevant information regarding the arrangement to be made.  The contractor may carry out funeral arrangements if the relative of the deceased makes the initial approach.  It must not be implied to any bereaved family that the contractor must be instructed to carry out the funeral arrangements.  No pressure must be exerted on the bereaved families to attempt to obtain instructions to carry out the funeral arrangements.” 

I have spoken to the coroner for the Western Dorset District, Michael Johnston, who has confirmed that soliciting for services whilst undertaking a service on his behalf, would not be acceptable. 

I write to remind you of the terms the contract and that any such breach would result in a review of your contract for the provision of such services.  

Yours sincerely 

 

Steve Cheeseman

Business Support and Facilities Manager 

cc Mr Jack Walsh, South West Sector Manager, Co-operative FuneralCare

 

This is not the end of Beverley and Michelle’s campaign by any means, by the way. They’re not satisfied with this mere warning shot from Mr Cheeseman. They feel the contract was breached.

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Council warns undertaker about soliciting

  1. Charles Cowling
    Mark Shaw

    In any other industry “soliciting” for business is ok, and the nearer to the source of business the better.

    When death occurs however, we are not allowed to discuss business.

    Many families need help at this point and they have an expert fd on hand to give help as required.

    (It is not unusual for such complaints to be instigated by competing funeral directors who don’t like that someone else has the contract)

    And yes, if the contracts were serviced at the commercial, profitable rate of doing such demanding work properly it would cost the public purse hundreds of thousands ££ so actually the funeral profession gives this service at a reduced cost and yes it might benefit their business profile.

    I guess we don’t like fd s lending their limo’s to nursing homes for excursions or sponsoring bingo either!?


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    smashing, smashing stuff – great to see this thread resurrected (nil pun here, of course)

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Graham Howsham

    I have considerable experience within the trade, most large funeral groups such as the Co-op FuneralCare & Dignity along with many independent companies are happy to remove the deceased for a small fee in the hope of attaining the funeral, what they fail to tell you is that they are much more expensive than a smaller local independent company, hence recuperating the cost lost of the coroner’s removal. NAFD like many associations does not like upsetting their members for fear of losing their subscriptions, as for the Council there was a clear breach of the contract and therefore a weakness in the councils approach to the matter. If you experience this take the matter to the press.


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Teresa Evans

    Charles you say here that “…the NAFD receives so few complaints, and is able to point to that as descriptive of the excellence of its members”. I agree that this is what the NAFD promotes, but I do not know that it is true. It is my understanding that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) or any other consumer body has not established how many complaints are made to the NAFD on an annual basis so the NAFD can say whatever it wants to. The OFT claims, that it doesn’t receive many complaints. I must assume that it fails to grasp that the only reason that this can be is because when people do make a complaint and proceeds to arbitration they are likely encouraged to sign a privacy agreement.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    …….and sadly David is spot on here, f’care and Dignity have (in the past and clearly still are) tendering for Coroner’s contracts for less than a £1 (per removal)………..and/or unless they can “…..convince the grieving relatives at the scene that they should ‘do the funeral’ for them…”, this sort of work is clearly very much a loss leader

    unless I’m very wrong, Coroner’s do not believe in paying anywhere near ‘a commercial rate’ for their call out’s and until that happens, then there is always the likelihood of [ ]

    it’s all part of ‘the saturation policy’ carried out by f’care after all – having said that some of the Coroner’s work clearly isn’t for the faint hearted

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    No soliciting for funerals by Coroner’s contractors – Oh yeah, pull the other one?

    Why exactly do you think a funeral director – any funeral director – would tender for removals free of charge or for pence unless they were sure they could convince the grieving relatives at the scene that they should ‘do the funeral’ for them?

    Think about it; a two man crew – specialist ambulance, fuel, insurance and expensive equipment – often in the middle of the night, or Christmas day, weekends. Bank Holidays – all for nothing – nil wonga? Yeah right.

    The whole system stinks – families, up and down Britain – just minutes after a sudden death are confronted by an enthusiastic funeral director – touting for work – yet no-one appears the least bothered by it.


    Charles Cowling

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