The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Undertakers overcharge, situation normal

Saturday, 1 June 2013

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You may or not have been up early enough to catch the ITV Daybreak piece on funerals on Thursday morning. The GFG media monitoring team wasn’t. It was at the seaside. Had it not been for a call from Rosie at the Natural Death Centre we would have missed it altogether.

Impelled by a strong sense of duty, and to the accompaniment of howls of impatience — you have to wade through acres of vapid adverts to get to it — we have now witnessed the report for ourselves. 

We learned nothing new. The tone was hostile and entirely price-focussed. ITV had commissioned a poll and discovered that 1 in 3 of us feels pressurised into spending more than we want; 42 per cent of us feel we were overcharged; 1 person in 3 doesn’t understand the costs; and 1 person in 7 isn’t happy with the service. It all depends how you word the questions, doesn’t it?

ITV requested quotes from 120 funeral homes around the country for a simple funeral. Something like £2000 separated the cheapest from the dearest. 

A woman seeking direct cremation was told by one funeral director “We don’t do that” and failed to recommend someone who would. Her google-savvy daughter, after “weeks”on the internet, eventually sourced Poppy Mardall, whom she praised to the skies. How she missed all the other direct cremationists out there is a mystery. 

Dominic Maguire, for the NAFD, countered criticism by reminding us that a third or more of the cost of a funeral is disbursements and only 80 people complained last year. 

There was good advice about asking a friend to do the ‘project management’. We were told that we could do it all ourselves, but we were given no guidance on the small matter of how to look after a dead body. 

The report did not tell us that there are lots and lots of good guys in the industry; seek and you shall find. It was, arguably, an unhelpful omission. 

You can catch the report on the ITV Player here. Starts at 7.42. 

20 comments on “Undertakers overcharge, situation normal

  1. Monday 3rd June 2013 at 9:05 pm

    We have offered direct cremations since we opened in 2009. These have always been very well received by our clients.

    Would it not be worth forming a Trade Association dedicated to Direct Cremation Providers?

  2. ian

    Monday 3rd June 2013 at 5:02 pm

    nick, do you have premises at all? Even if you work ‘from home’ you could have a dedicated ‘home office’ that you can use for work…as for a range of coffins, well, you can always offer them at a slightly increased price – in theory we ‘offer’ american style caskets. No- ones ever had one, though…

    All funeral directors that belong to the NAFD offer, and always have offered, a ‘simple’ funeral. That is, by its very definition, a direct-cremation. I either have been or have worked for a company that belonged the NAFD and it’s a stipulation in their code (one part of its definition is “provision of a hearse direct to the nearest crematorium”)

    • Tuesday 4th June 2013 at 10:22 pm

      Ian, yes we have premises. We don’t have the traditional “shop front” that 99% of funeral directors maintain in the high street. We operate from a purpose-built mortuary, that is set within a leafy public cemetery. It contains a general area, fridge room, viewing room, toilet, office and a multi-purpose room that can work either as an office, reception room, or viewing room. I personally feel that this form of setup is perfect for the type of service we offer. It’s a modern, spacious mortuary with public areas added, rather than the usual palatial FDs public area with a cramped prep room shoe-horned into the back of the building.

      The direct cremation that we offer, is just that. An unattended cremation without a service. It’s what over 90% of our clients want, and the very reason that they instruct us…. and it’s somewhat less expensive than the “simple” funeral required by the NAFD.

      (We also offer a “simple” or “basic” funeral which mirrors the NAFD and SAIF offering if necessary).

      One comparison with our service model can be made, say, with McDonalds. You could go to MaccyDs and ask them to cook you a fillet steak. They have every facility on each of their premises to cook you the most perfect fillet steak …. but they won’t do it. They stick to what they do best (or worst, if you’re not a fan). Likewise, we prefer to make things as simple and least costly for our clients. But, we have all the facilities available to us to provide any level of funeral you may order.

      Our premises are designed to support the service we offer, not as a sales tool.

      Hope that this clarifies…

      – Nick

  3. ian

    Monday 3rd June 2013 at 9:36 am

    Nick – what aspects didn’t conform with their ‘code’?

    • Monday 3rd June 2013 at 10:42 am

      A very good question Ian.

      At the inspection, the comments were that there was nothing that could not be overcome. That then mysteriously changed in the inspectors report to the membership committee saying there was no way that we could conform to the code.

      The main sticking point, I think, was that we did not intend to maintain a dedicated arrangement room in our mortuary premises. Being an internet-based provider, 95% of all our business is arranged, at distance, over the web, and by telephone. The other 5% represents a home visit.

      The lack of a range/choice of coffins for direct cremation was another issue that the inspector could not get his head around.

      There was no issue with the quality of what we do, it appeared to be purely that because of the methods associated with direct cremation, as opposed with a traditional arrangement, we could not guarantee to adhere to the code on every single occasion.

      In truth, and in retrospect, to honestly adhere to every aspect of the code, would have meant changing our cost-saving direct cremation business into a traditional funeral service, just to become a member.

      Makes me wonder just how many NAFD members that now offer direct cremation are doing so outside their code. I’m not anti-NAFD BTW, I just think that it’s about time their code got a new coat of paint….

      • andrew plume

        Tuesday 4th June 2013 at 9:42 am

        Hi Nick

        a tale of NAFD persona being stuck in the last decade, imo

        surely, the whole point of ‘Direct Cremation’ is, is that a “range of coffins” isn’t especially essential, particularly as the attendees at the Crem will be minimal if nil

        and the issue of the “absence” of an arranging room is just plain daft for your business model

        regards

        andrew

        • Tuesday 4th June 2013 at 9:44 pm

          Thats the way I saw the situation as well, Andrew.

          – Nick

  4. Kitty

    Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 1:12 pm

    ‘We were told that we could do it all ourselves, but we were given no guidance on the small matter of how to look after a dead body.’
    Perhaps the co-op could do one of their surveys and tell us how many people would consider a DIY funeral.

    • Jonathan

      Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 10:24 pm

      By the same logic, Kitty, the home funeral movement could survey its adherents about how many of them would consider a Funearlcare funeral. It’s not only how you frame the questions, it’s who you ask them of.

      (I didn’t see the offending programme – you lot have put me off bothering!)

      • Kitty

        Monday 3rd June 2013 at 3:51 pm

        ‘It’s not only how you frame the questions, it’s who you ask them of.’ Exactly. Sorry J, firmly in cheek tongue was.

        • Jonathan

          Monday 3rd June 2013 at 6:29 pm

          Oh Kitty, always rest assured that cheek is my own tongue’s fixed abode – I just relished the rejuxtaposition, that was all!

    • andrew plume

      Monday 3rd June 2013 at 9:10 pm

      Hello Kitty

      I’m afraid that the Coop will almost certainly NOT consider this (at all), as with the other Corporates, their business models do “not entertain DIY funerals”

      regards

      andrew

      • Jed

        Wednesday 5th June 2013 at 12:47 am

        I wonder if the Co-Op will even go and listen to Rosie from the NDC et al at the NFE discussing DIY ( how many acronyms can I fit in one comment?)

        • andrew plume

          Wednesday 5th June 2013 at 7:49 am

          Jed

          they will not bother, it’s literally an area that will never interest them…….there’s nil in it for them in terms of their sole aim to maximise profits…….ironically, it’s the sort of issue that their founding fathers would almost certainly have encouraged

          andrew

  5. Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 10:53 am

    I missed it too.

    What you say, Charles, about “how you word the questions” is a very good point. It’s surely also valid to ask why, when a reporter or client is trying to compare costs for a NO funeral arrangement, they approach a funeral director. The clue is painted over the door – “Funeral Director”. Their whole business model is set up to sell and conduct funerals. Of course their prices will be higher, and their methods and costs more expensive.

    For those folk who only want a cremation, carried out with care and dignity, the choice has never been better. I too am somewhat bewildered why the lady in the programme had such a difficult time trying to find someone prepared to provide a direct cremation. Google “cremation, simple cremation, simple funeral, low cost cremation” etc etc., and any number of websites will appear before your very eyes, offering that exact service. Her choice of Poppy was without doubt a good one.

    And Rosie, yes I too, for just one fleeting moment, thought that Dominic was going to depart from his usual script. His points relating to outside costs (disbursements) are always valid though. In truth, it must be a difficult seat to sit in when every question is always going to be hostile….

    – Nick

    • Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 6:09 pm

      Do you not think though, Nick, that the reason the NAFD has to answer ‘hostile’ questions is because it (they) never gives straight answers?

      It was a perfectly simple question DM was asked, but he avoided it like a seasoned politician.

      Surely if the NAFD became more of a consumer-focused organisation, with the consumer being the public rather than the FD, it wouldn’t have this problem.

      But then, until it becomes even slightly effective at policing its members (eg insisting they offer a basic funeral (as per the code of practice) – not only when it’s asked for by name) what chance is there of it doing any more?

      • Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Andrew, I cannot argue with your logic. But, as you so rightly point out, the name over the door is the NAFD (association of Funeral Directors), NOT the association for clients of funeral directors.

        My firm recently applied for membership. We were rejected. NOT because our premises were unacceptable. NOT because any other LOCAL member FDs opposed us. NOT because we were unprofessional. NOT, I hope, because the NAFD is in any way opposed to direct cremation services, but simply because we were judged (by the nature of our business), not to be able (in every single case) to adhere to their strict Code of Conduct.

        Many of their members now offer the same services that I offer, in exactly the same way, using the same format. And yet, THEIR routines have, to the very best of my knowledge, not been challenged.

        I’m absolutely fine with people sticking to the rules like glue, providing that they only do that ALL the time… for ALL their members… not only when it suits them!

        – V. best, Nick

  6. Saturday 1st June 2013 at 11:59 pm

    Certainly nothing new to us but we are not your average ITV watching members of the public.
    It was typically annoying, the editing having removed much helpful advice and positive FD info.
    However, it pointed out some pretty radical stuff. This was mainstream TV informing millions that you should shop around, be careful, delegate, question and SHOCK HORROR do it yourself is possible.
    I am still amazed at conferences etc to meet professional gate keepers who haven’t got a clue. If they can’t offer advice, know the law and point folk in the right direction then we will have to rely on our friends in the media to plant ideas in the mind of the public.
    As for poor Dominic I thought I saw for the first time a moment of surprise and disbelief. He soon slipped into his deflection and bull mode though. Complete denial, I do wish he would come and spend a week in the NDC office.

  7. Saturday 1st June 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Almost exactly the same words I used in an e-mail the day it was aired, Jed, so no point in me repeating!

  8. Jed

    Saturday 1st June 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I watched it on ITVplayer but got so cross about those adverts – every time I tried to fast forward to the relevant bit I had to endure 6 more… GRRRRR
    I was pleased to hear Rosie from NDC speaking good advice and that Poppy’s Funerals got such a lovely mention. I guess people maybe don’t know how to search for ‘Direct Cremation’ – how would Joe Public know what it was called?
    As ever Mr Maguire, like a good politician, avoided the questions – from what I hear the reason people don’t get as far as complaining to NAFD is because the funeral directors buy them off with free headstones, discounts on the funeral and various other sundries. ( ‘unofficial’ conversations with arrangers inform that opinion)

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