The Good Funeral Guide Blog

How they wear you down

Sunday, 16 June 2013

I first heard from Lisa Mullan when she wrote to me on 23 Feb 2013: 

My father was told he had terminal lung cancer in May 2012 and had around 6 months to live. He subsequently purchased a Funeral Care Plan from the Cooperative Funeral Care, Plympton, Devon and requested he be buried at the Crossways Woodland Burial site. A Mr Richard Parson, Hub manager of the branch, sent my father’s cheque off to Mr Chatfield [the owner of Crossways] to purchase a plot in May. 
 
When my father sadly passed away in November, my mother and sister went to the funeral home to be told my father did not have a plot. The confusion had arisen as Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not confirm the purchase and also Mr Chatfield was also away on holiday and could not be instantly contacted. This was Tuesday 6th November. Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm. This would have been seen by the Coop staff on the Friday morning at open of business.
 
On that Friday my mother popped in to the branch to ask if they had heard anything from Crossways. The Coop version of events differs slightly with each telling and currently stands that my mother was told Crossways had not confirmed and to take the weekend to visit both it and another burial ground at Yealmpton and decide where she would like to bury my father.
 
On the Monday my mother rang the Coop again for news on whether they had heard anything from Crossways and was told that they had not but the funeral could be postponed. We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements. My mother panicked and, gently guided by the Coop staff, she opted to book a plot in Yealmpton where the subsequent funeral was held and where my father now lies. 
 
In dismay at the lack of communication from Crossways, my sister took the time to find out their governing body and wrote a complaint to the Natural Death Centre. We were then shocked to discover that Crossways had indeed confirmed all arrangements and we had not been informed. 
 
To further complicate matters, Mr Chatfield had been away on holiday and his return flight was hit by a baggage handlers strike, so he had to pay to fly back earlier than scheduled with another airline. 
 
I am currently in discussions with the Coop. Initially after a face to face meeting with Mr Parson I was reimbursed the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to take him to Crossways and was also expecting communication from him regarding exactly what had happened and how this miscommunication had come about. My mother received the money, but I heard nothing from him regarding the circumstances in which the lack of information had taken place. I then wrote to him again and asked to be reimbursed for the 20% administration fee Crossways charged on the refunded monies for the plot, an apology for my mother and the £300 for Mr Chatfield’s flight.  I have since been in contact with the regional manager, Mr Adrian Smart, and am waiting for him to provide me with details of his manager. Needless to say, all requests have so far been refused.
 
This whole situation is a cause of stress and upset to myself and my family and also to Mr Chatfield who has lost out financially but also has a complaint against his name and reputation. 

 

I replied with what I hope was helpful advice and a warning that the process of seeing the complaint through was likely to be drawn out. 

 

On 16 May Lisa wrote to individual senior managers at Funeralcare in Manchester and informed them, among other things, that: 

 

I am seeking to recover costs … and as your Regional Manager has failed to attend to the matter in nearly four months, I appeal to you to take this further. 

 

Lisa sent the senior managers a timeline: 

 

24th May 2012: My father paid for a Tailor Made Funeral Care Plan at the Co-op Funeralcare in Plympton, Devon (hereafter known as Plympton). His contact was Hub Manager Mr Richard Parson. His wish was to be buried at the Crossways Burial Ground in Okehampton (hereafter known as Crossways) and Mr Parson sent a cheque for £835 to pay for the plot to Mr Martin Chatfield on his behalf. The “Grave Details” specify Crossways.

 

25 May 2012: Payment for plot received by Crossways.

 

6th November 2012, 0140: My father died.  0900: My mother received a call from Plympton inviting her to come in.  10.00: My mother and sister attended this appointment and were assisted with information pertaining to administration of a late relative. They also discussed initial funeral arrangements and were informed my father did not have a plot booked. Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not clarify the situation and unfortunately so was Mr Chatfield. Apparently repeated attempts to contact him by Plympton were unsuccessful. pm: My sister managed to speak to Mr Chatfield who would contact the UK to check plot status. Stiil no contact between Mr Chatfield and Plympton.
 

7th November 2012, 1245: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting he inform them of plot status.

8th November 2012, 1231: Email from Mr Chatfield to Plympton stating the existence of a plot for my father and potential accommodation of a funeral any time after 18th November 2012. 1353: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting a burial at 1245 on 20th November 2012. 18.16: Reply from Mr Chatfield to Plympton confirming time and place of burial. 

9 November 2012, 0900: My mother pops into Plympton. It is suggested she look at both Crossways and a burial site at Yealmpton, Devon (hereafter known as Yealmpton) over the weekend and inform Plympton of her decision on the Monday. As far as she is aware, funeral arrangements are for 20th November 2012 but contact with Crossways has not yet been established.

10-11 November 2012: The family inform relatives and friends that the funeral would be held on 20th November 2012

12 November 2012, 1100: My mother speaks to Plympton to be told there is still no word from Crossways but the funeral could be postponed until they had. Various: Phone records show several phone calls to myself and my sister from my mother. Unfortunately no one was home to take them. Midday: My mother confirms with Plympton that the burial should be moved to Yealmpton and agrees to pay an extra £950 for the plot and grave digging. 1451: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield informing him of my mother’s decision and requesting a full refund of the £835 my father paid for the plot. 0900: Mr Chatfield paid £300 to a second airline and started returning to the UK two days premature of his original departure date due to an unforeseen baggage handlers strike with his original airline. 2100: Mr Chatfield discovered the email from Plympton cancelling the burial.

13 November 2012: Mr Chatfield spoke to Mr Parson to express his displeasure but promised to refund the plot money minus a 20% administration fee.

20 November 2012: My father’s funeral at Plympton and Burial in Yealmpton. The requested donations box was not present before or after the service in Plympton.

25 November 2012, 1552: Email from my sister, Caroline Fielden, to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre to complain about Mr Chatfield’s conduct in not contacting Plympton to arrange the burial at Crossways that my father had requested and paid for.

27 November 2012, 1245: Email from Rosie Inman-Cook to my sister informing her that Mr Chatfield had indeed confirmed the burial, returning early due to the aforementioned strike to be present.

29 November 2012, 1941: My sister forwarded to email from Rosie Inman-Cook to Plympton and requested sight of emails from 7th and 8th November to confirm this. She never received a reply.

Early December 2012: I was informed of the above and agreed to take it further. I arranged to meet Mr Parson on a trip to Plympton that month. I also rang Mr Chatfield who immediately forwarded the pertinent emails from 7th and 8th November.

12 December 2102, 1230: Meeting with Mr Parson to explain entire incident. He claimed not to be aware of any of it and needed to speak to his staff. We arranged a further meeting for the following day. There were several points regarding anecdotal evidence that Plympton had been rather persuasive in steering my mother to use Yealmpton and not Crossways for the burial.

13 December 2012, 0900: Second meeting with Mr Parson. We discussed various anecdotal evidence. He did not, however, say he had discovered exactly why my mother had not been informed that Mr Chatfield had confirmed the time and date of the burial. This, in my mind was the sole reason for reconvening the meeting. Mr Parson agreed to reimburse the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to drive to Crossways, offered to help me with full reimbursement from Crossways should they refuse and let me know via email exactly how the confusion had arisen.

End December 2012: A cheque for £112 was sent to my mother to reimburse mileage.

4 January 2013, 2207: Email from me to Mr Parson explaining my disappointment at not hearing from him regarding the confusion.

7 January 2013, 0813:  Email from Mr Parson to me stating he thought we had sorted the problem and when he would be contactable by phone.

7-9 January 2103, various: Tried to contact Mr Parson by phone but to no avail.

9 January 2013, 2133: Email from me to Mr Parson requesting Plympton reimburse the 20% Crossways administration fee, issue a full apology to my mother and reimburse Mr Chatfield the £300 he was obliged to pay to return to the UK.

11 January 2013, 1020: Email from Mr Parson re-stating that Plympton were not at fault. Inclusion of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme Leaflet.

12 January 2013, 1943: Email to Mr Parson stating that I will be taking the matter further.

13 January 2013, 0900: Phone call to Co-op Funeral Care Customer services. Matter discussed with the member of staff who sent the mileage cheque to my mother. 1700: Contact from Mr Adrian Smart, Regional Manager overseeing Plympton. He promises to investigate the issue and phone back. 

18 January 2013, 1713: Email from Mr Smart. Attached letter details incident as he has understood it and the Arbitration leaflet. An apology was made for contacting my mother so soon after my father’s death but not for withholding information from Crossways.

10 February 2013, 2114: Reply to Mr Smart detailing the reasons I believe my mother was misled by Co-op staff.

11 February 2013, 0944: Reply from Mr Smart stating he cannot respond at this particular time but I will hear from him in due course. I have never heard from him or anybody else from the Co-op again.

Today, 16 June 2013, I received the following from Lisa: 

Hi Charles, 

I have reached an impasse with the Co-op. They insist on concentrating on the Tuesday (my father died) and the Friday (where they reckon they told my mother about Crossways, but really all they seem to have done is told her to visit both plots) and not on the following Monday (when she was told they still hadn’t heard from Crossways and the funeral could be postponed). Jack Walsh (the sector manager) has offered to pay 10% of the Crossways admin fee as apparently they have communication from Martin Chatfield stating as much, even though we only received 80% reimbursement (not that I begrudge Martin the 10% as he is out of pocket too). 
 
Jack Walsh is apparently now writing to my mother about his findings and it will be interesting to see what happens there. However, I would now like you to, if you can and want to, publish our story.

19 comments on “How they wear you down

  1. Saturday 27th July 2013 at 7:01 pm

    […] may remember the case of Lisa Mullan, whose father chose to be buried at Crossways woodland burial site but, because of an […]

    • Tuesday 8th October 2013 at 9:28 pm

      My sincere thoughts go out to the family and friends involved.
      On a serious note though, if the grave plot had been purchased prior to death ‘where were the DEEDS’. This would ofcourse been a key indicater of whether the chosen cemetery had been paid and/or booked!
      The rest of the matter appears to be a client coerced into making decisions to cover up the image of the Co-op.
      All very sad.

  2. Martin Chatfield

    Monday 15th July 2013 at 2:03 pm

    We think it is about time we added our little bit in this matter, we feel so sorry for all the heartache caused to the family, even though on holiday abroad in this day and age with mobile phones and web access we replied in an instant to the Coop.
    Anyway it appears to us that we are the little guy trodden on and trying to be blamed by a mighty organisation.
    We just hope others learn from this episode and use independent funeral directors.

  3. andrew plume

    Monday 1st July 2013 at 9:22 am

    thanks Andrew

    yes, I was (well) aware of that

    thanks for correcting this, I should have elaborated more in my post

    regards

    andrew

  4. Margaret OHagan

    Saturday 29th June 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I have a long term debilitating illness that causes pain all through my body, I suffer from many ailments such as anxiety, clinical depression, loss of memory, forgetfulness, lack of concentration,low self esteem,if any, no confidence.Unsure of what day it is or date. Stomach spasms and a hatred for the system we now have to exist in. I took out a co-op funeral plan on Jan 2012 and was very pleased with myself for doing something positive. I tried to make sure this was always paid. I got into a lot of debt and when I thought I could sink no further I had to go for a trust deed scotland inbetween all this I had missed payments on my funeral plan I called them to explain the situation, but they wanted all the payments paid that day I did not have enough and thought I could maybe get friends or family to help out,but could’nt I called the co-op to be told they had cancelled my plan and would not let me pay. kept telling me it was cancelled. I pleaded with them to no avail, I broke down crying but still got the broken record answer they were sorry but there was nothing they could do. I am totally gutted, there are no words to explain how I feel, apart from being let down by our caring, sharing co-op. I grew up with the co-op values even knew my mums divi number 14716. When I was well and attended college I did my disertation on Robert Owen and the Rochdale brothers, Visited New Lanark to show my children what great things the co-op does. So apart from losing my money paid into the plan I have lost the plan it’s self and I have lost all faith in my not so caring ,sharing co-op. They have become like the rest of this stinking system cold hard business people who don’t CARE if you suffer from mental and physical illness. So they have shattered the pricipals I used to have.Talk about kicking you when you when you are down, which is to be expected from other businesses but I never thought I would see the day when the co-op is just as bad if not worse than them. So anyone with an illness especially mental health issues probably best not bothering and just leave the bill to your off spring to pick up. I am totally scunnered to say the least.

    • Sunday 30th June 2013 at 10:19 am

      Margaret, what a sad story. But I think you can turn this round and make it back into a positive if you want (or need) to.

      You don’t say how much you have paid to the Co-op, but unless it is a very small amount, and could justifiably be called an administration charge, you are legally entitled to a refund of any money paid which has been put in trust.

      You don’t say where you are, but I deduce you are in Scotland. If I’m wrong, please forgive me. Find a local, independent funeral director, and use the money you get back from the Co-op as a deposit on a funeral plan with the new funeral director. If you were nearer to me (and you might even be!) I would make this happen for you.

      If you have trouble finding someone, please feel free to call me on (01480) 471001 during the week, or e-mail me andrew@kingfisherfunerals.co.uk and I will do all I can to assist you.

    • Lisa

      Saturday 27th July 2013 at 11:49 am

      My Dad went to the Co-op too because he and my Mum grew up with it and trusted the name. I think the word should now be spread that it is not the same trusted name that it was and th eoriginal premis of what the Co-op was and stood for no longer has a place in the commercial world of money-grabbing and laziness.

      Is there a register to help people look for independent funeral directors, as I understand the Co-op takes over some of theses businesses and doesn’t re-name them so noone knows they are dealing with the Co-op.

      Lisa

  5. HP

    Thursday 20th June 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I am sorry to read your story and saddened to hear of the undue upset and stress caused you and your family at this already difficult time.

    You mention being sent a Funeral Arbitration Scheme leaflet – did you pursue that course of action? I note you are still within the time frame for which this course of action can be taken (12 months from the date of the funeral service).

    In raising the issue with the firm you have already taken the first step of stage one of the scheme. As you have been unable to resolve the matter you could now apply in writing to the FAS. Do you still have information regarding the scheme?

    • Lisa

      Tuesday 25th June 2013 at 10:00 pm

      Dear HP,

      We did not take it further as the Co-op are insisting that my mother is the client (surely it was my father?) and at the time she was unable to cope with any of this. In fact a lot of the dealings I could not tell her about for months as it would make her ill.

      Lisa

      • andrew plume

        Wednesday 26th June 2013 at 5:55 pm

        Lisa

        I’m afraid they are right, if your Mother was the Executor, then legally “she stands in your father’s shoes”

        regards

        andrew

        • Jonathan

          Wednesday 26th June 2013 at 11:28 pm

          What an intersting point, Andrew. If the exectuor (or whoever stands in her place concerning the funeral) is the plan provider’s client, doesn’t that imply that even when we’ve paid for a funeral plan it does not belong to us, and that we forfeit all rights to it on signing up?

          • andrew plume

            Friday 28th June 2013 at 9:46 pm

            thanks Jonathan

            well, in signing up for a Plan and presumably after a ‘cooling off period’, monies will have been paid over for your chosen F/D to carry out exactly what you have chosen

            I suppose that some will feel that its an investment in itself and frees their nearest and dearest of cost and considering what;s best after their demise

            I’m not sure of “any rights are forfeited” etc etc, one would need to look at all of the small print

            certainly if problems arose after a death and the chosen provider or the F/D were unable to carry out whatever had been paid for, then legally all rights of action would pass to that person’s Executor/Personal Representative

            regards

            andrew

          • Sunday 30th June 2013 at 10:23 am

            Andrew and Jonathan, would it not seem logical that the plan holder is the client until he or she dies, at which time the executor becomes the client?

            Andrew, “well, in signing up for a Plan and presumably after a ‘cooling off period’, monies will have been paid over for your chosen F/D to carry out exactly what you have chosen” is not actually accurate. We do not receive any of the trust money until the client dies. That’s the whole point of funeral plans. The client’s money is secure, and away from the funeral director, until it’s required.

        • Lisa

          Saturday 27th July 2013 at 11:43 am

          Hi,

          A bit late and you may not be reading this anymore, but I was the Executor of the will, the Grant of Probate was granted to me, however it was my mother that turned up on the Tuesday!

          Lisa

  6. Wednesday 19th June 2013 at 4:50 pm

    We have worked with Martin Chatfield on many occasions and found him and his wife Julie to be extremely conscientious and thorough. They are a genuine small family concern, just the two of them and I can’t begrudge them a holiday. I got somewhat lost in the back and forth of this email trail, but one thing jumps out. Crossways is an awkward place to get to from Plympton, where as Yealmpton is about five minutes down the road. You do the maths..

  7. Kathryn Edwards

    Tuesday 18th June 2013 at 11:25 am

    O, the heartbreak of a messed-up funeral!
    A shortfall of dignity, compassion, elegance, courtesy . . . One could go on.

    This is the disembodied jobsworth attitude of an over-commercial way of doing business.

    • andrew plume

      Tuesday 18th June 2013 at 12:51 pm

      exactly Kathryn

      I do not wish to constantly bang on re the shortcomings of Funeralcare but with their reputation and vast profits, they really should deal with these sort of problems straight away and with nil fuss

      regards

      andrew

  8. andrew plume

    Monday 17th June 2013 at 11:25 am

    very sad stuff, I’m afraid

    yet again Funeralcare are wriggling about…………………..irrespective of their vast profits, the party line seems very much to avoid liability

    to me and “cutting through all of the above”, the buck stops with F’care on the day that they accepted written instructions from Lisa’s father. It was very clear what he wanted and he paid for that specific burial plot. A duty of care was owed by F’care to him and his family. F’care contracted to perform their task at a certain burial ground and this did not occur

    for whatever reason, F’care did not subsequently follow up on any paper trail front and there was then this unfortunate impasse…………

    I belive that this can easily be summarised as:-

    a) the total cost of the funeral at Yealmpton was X

    b) Lisa’s father paid X

    c) the difference arising plus any amounts due for stress and inconvenience caused to the family is payable by F’care

    all very logical and clear cut to me

    regards

    andrew

  9. Monday 17th June 2013 at 9:20 am

    One would hope (expect) that a funeral director would prefer to lose a couple of hundred quid than risk exposure in this fashion, even if it’s for the protection of his or her name rather than for the sake of the client.

    In fairness to the Co-op though, there is something I don’t quite understand, and it just could alter the whole outcome of this story.

    “Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm.”

    Then

    “We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements.”

    You can’t confirm a funeral without knowing that everything is in place – including of course the cemetery. To confirm the funeral for the 20th, the Co-op must have known the availability of the cemetery, and passed that on to the client in the form of a confirmation (in whatever guise).

    • Lisa

      Monday 17th June 2013 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I assumed they confirmed the 20th as the date on which they could do it – had chapel free, hearse free etc – what does not logically follow is why my Mum was then told on the Monday there was still no word and the funeral could be postponed until they had word. In all my discussions with the Co-op, they have skirted nicely around this issue.

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