The Good Funeral Guide Blog

A promise made is a debt unpaid

Monday, 9 June 2014

Debt2

 

The devaluation of the Social Fund Funeral Payment is the main cause of funeral poverty, but there are others. Some families sign up to more than they can afford – and funeral directors let them. The impact on both parties can be devastating. While the great and the good convene conferences to debate solutions, a practical lesson may come from, of all unlikely sources, the debt collection sector.

Templegate Recoveries is a debt collection agency that has been recommended to us by a funeral director whom we know and admire and like. So we asked Joanna Rogers, who founded the business with her sister Alex, to write about what they do to help funeral directors and families to avoid the misery of unpaid bills. Jo is on standby to respond to your comments. 

After 25 years in the Debt Recovery business my sister and I decided to start Templegate Recoveries Ltd. We wanted to service the small to medium size businesses in a more personal and ethical way than what was on offer from the large debt collection agencies. Our main priorities are ensuring that the good name of our clients is protected and the feelings of their customers are treated with respect and consideration at all times.

Because this ethos has attracted many funeral directors who want a more personal and sympathetic service we have, over the years, become experts in the collection of funeral debt

We have made it our business to keep up to date with all relevant legislation within the industry and now find ourselves not only recovering our client’s debt, but also assisting the debtors themselves. We make sure they know all the payment options open to them, where any assistance is available and provide forms where necessary, so our clients receive their money back at the earliest opportunity and the families who have lost their loved ones have peace of mind.

We regularly encounter genuinely cash-strapped individuals trying to bury their loved ones alongside the frivolous money’s-no-object (until the bill comes in) family member who believes the bigger the funeral the more loved the deceased. Unfortunately there’s a real lack of knowledge when it comes to funerals and many people still believe the government will provide financial assistance – that is, until they find themselves responsible for a large bill after the funeral.

We have come across many situations where a family have got the unemployed, benefit-claiming sibling to sign for the funeral in the hope the DWP will pay. However, if there are working family members the DWP won’t pay, leaving a big bill with someone unable to pay it and more often than not the funeral director considerably out of pocket.

In this situation honesty is always the best way forward, both on the part of the funeral director and the family arranging the funeral. Funeral directors have historically found it difficult to discuss cost with a distressed family that have just lost their loved one, and families find it difficult in such an upsetting time to be realistic about what they can actually afford. However there is help on both sides.

Here at Templegate we have spent considerable time with our Funeral Directors  tightening up their in-house procedures, helping them spot families that are likely to have problems paying, providing extra information forms for them to use and modernising their terms & conditions to include a debt recovery clause. This offers protection for both parties. It is the responsibility of the Funeral Director to help steer the family towards a funeral that will be financially viable for them, and for the family to recognise that at the end of the day the Funeral Director is a business that needs paying for their services.

There clearly needs to be more transparency about the help available for individuals on benefits who have no ability to pay for a funeral at all. For example there is the SF500 form which is a crisis loan from the government  that historically helps with housing repairs, clothing allowances etc but will now help considerably with funeral costs. Further, if there are no other family members in employment the DWP will also pay up to around £1,400 towards the funeral.  If you are a family, however, which does not qualify for any of the above there is absolutely no shame in having a public health funeral that is far more manageable financially.

Funeral  Directors suffer hugely due to the fact that they are the only industry that offers the amount of credit that they do with very few questions asked. Quite often they are family run businesses that arrange all their funerals on blind trust that at the end of the day they will be paid, but sadly this is often not the case. Businesses that have been in families for many years are getting into a considerable amount of financial difficulty due to unpaid funeral bills and disbursements that have to be paid up front. We believe this needs to change to reflect the tougher times we now find ourselves in.

If you are reading this article and you have sadly lost a loved one and are looking to arrange a funeral, remember the following. The person signing the arrangement form is the person legally responsible for paying the account, therefore if you are paying as a family then all family members should sign. Secondly, Funeral Directors do not hold a credit licence, therefore you will need to pay the account in its entirety after the funeral has taken place. Try to remember the type of funeral you can afford is not a measure of how much you love the deceased and if you are honest with the funeral director they will provide you with a very dignified service that is still within your budget. There is nothing worse than grieving for a loved one and worrying about how you are going to pay their funeral bill on top.

Further, if you are a Funeral Director reading this article please be mindful of the fact that times are changing and that you are in fact a business. It is just as important to offer a family a suitable service within their budget as it is to get all the details right on the day. There is not a company anywhere that would offer you a considerable amount of credit with no questions asked and the same applies to Funerals. If you feel you need any further assistance with either outstanding accounts or wish to make use of our consultancy service please go to www.templegaterecoveries.co.uk for more information or alternatively call us on 01932 269412.

Finally, If you are an individual worried about how you are going to pay for the funeral of your loved one, please do not hesitate to call and ask for Jo, Alex or Irene and we will be happy to help.

 

 

 

 

14 comments on “A promise made is a debt unpaid

  1. Wednesday 18th June 2014 at 4:57 pm

    A very helpful article but I would question the council public health funeral option. A public health funeral was envisaged to step in when bodies were found exposed or abandoned. The council are not offering this as some form of choice, nor was it ever intended to back up people in poverty. It kicks in legally only when ‘no arrangements are being made to dispose of a body’. All that is necessary is to tell the council that this is the case. Poverty, the absence of family or relatives or a will or an estate is not relevant. All that matters is that the body is not being ‘disposed of’ in being sent for burial or cremation.

    Consequently, councils often sit back and wait in the hope that friends, drinking mates or work colleagues will stump up the money. The staff with this responsibility may be in finance or environmental health, and not skilled in bereavement or funerals. The councils do not want anybody to select such an option and it may well have a poverty status about it. Few people would want to go this way without a warning. Such councils tend to prefer cheap burial in an unpurchased (pauper) grave, which means the body may be interred together with unrelated public burials. As this grave will not be privately owned, no memorial can be placed. Such graves may well be in the worst part of the cemetery.

    Some people simply ignore these issues and go ahead anyway. Some have also stepped back and allowed this process to go ahead, perhaps knowing that the council had higher standards and might choose cremation or tended to inter in a new grave. These people have then returned after the funeral to pay all the council charges, which is often a very low cost funeral. If there is just one burial in the grave the they might also be able to purchase the grave right and subsequently, erect a memorial. It is a risky strategy.

    I managed about thirty such public health funerals a year when I managed Bereavement Services in Cardiff. The majority were of people who died and had no family whatsoever so nobody was available to arrange the funeral. The money found at the deceased’s residence, in suit pockets, in the tea caddy, tucked behind the toilet cystern and under the settee cushions, plus the sale of some possessions meant that, overall, a surplus arose at the end of each year for the thirty funerals. The Treasury Solicitor allowed councils then, if I recall correctly, to retain up to £5,000 of a persons estate. Those who left sums nearer that figure then effectively paid for those who had no estate. I would add that at Cardiff then, and now, nobody would experience what I mention above. All public funerals were arranged promptly and such funerals were impossible to separate from those where the family made, and paid, for all the arrangements. This is why only Bereavement Services should be appointed to manage such funerals, but many councils think otherwise, or don’t have any bereavement staff.

  2. Thursday 12th June 2014 at 9:32 pm

    I suppose medical research is the other option for the destitute? I have had one or two go this way – the hospital involved disposing of the body when they have finished – at no cost to the donor family.

    I think it’s clear councils all have a different approach. One local to me spent months, writing several times to the apparent partner of the deceased. They hand-delivered the last letter, before conceding defeat and authorising me to supply a coffin and deliver the body (which had been in my care) to their own crematorium for a cremation at a time of their choosing. They then hand-delivered a final letter to the partner, confirming the arrangements. From memory, they paid me around £500 for my part of the funeral on a take it or leave it basis. Even taking in to account their costs, it was a very inexpensive send-off for them.

  3. Tuesday 10th June 2014 at 10:20 am

    Really interesting article….where to start?!
    I already have a debt collector clause in my terms and conditions. I am afraid these days it is needed.
    However, I go to great lengths to ensure that all of my clients know their options and the costs involved.
    I have had people where money is no object yet opt for the most basic of services from me because they would like to be more involved in the whole funeral process.
    I have also had clients who have basically said they have very little money and what can I do to help them? In which case I give them lots of advice and they are able to arrange the funeral themselves.

    While I agree that we are a business and our invoices need to be paid, I am also very mindful that as a funeral director, we should also be part of our local community and should help where ever we can. If that is giving advice to someone who can’t afford to employ a funeral director, then I will every time.

    • Thursday 12th June 2014 at 11:36 am

      Absolutely spot on Lucy. I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Monday 9th June 2014 at 11:17 pm

    It’s certainly a growing problem. Surely ALL funeral directors discuss cost and ability to pay with clients?

    Last week a friend asked me to speak to someone not in my area who wanted a funeral for his mother. After chatting to the clearly distressed man for ten minutes – I advised him to speak to his local authority and tell them he could not pay for a funeral. He was on benefits, unable to get a social fund payment and would not borrow the £3,000 he had been quoted by a funeral director. He called again to tell me that a rude person at the council told him he would HAVE to arrange a funeral. Sit on your hands I told him – call their bluff! This is not the first time a family has told me that a council has insisted public health funerals don’t exist. These people seem to be playing hard-ball!

    • Wednesday 11th June 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Unfortunately not all funeral directors do discuss cost . In many communities where the family funeral director has been passed down through generations, and client and customer are acquainted, there is an unspoken trust. So much so that with some of our clients they hadn’t even acquired a signature.
      We have clients that have been trading for over 60 years who hadn’t even come across a bad debt until recent times. Therefore when they did they weren’t equipped to deal with it and had little knowledge of their rights.
      There is a real lack of education when it comes to funeral debt which unfortunately extends to the councils themselves. This is why we feel it is so important to keep up to date with all relevant legislation , so we are able to offer our clients so much more than a collection service.

  5. Jonathan

    Monday 9th June 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Thank you, Jo, Alex and Irene, for a very succinct and clear outline of the situation.

    I’d like to be clear about what I’d be letting a family in for were I to suggest they look into a Council Funeral, and I found this clause in particular needs clarifying:

    “(5)An authority may recover from the estate of the deceased person or from any person who for the purposes of the M3National Assistance Act 1948 was liable to maintain the deceased person immediately before his death expenses incurred under subsection (1) or subsection (2) above, . . . F1. ”

    Does this imply the authority can recover property to the value of, from not only the estate but the immediate family? A ‘person.. liable to maintain the deceased person…’ – who is that? A parent? A carer? A sibling?

    I look forward to your answer.

    Regards

    Jonathan

    .

    • Monday 9th June 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Gosh, what a good question, Jonathan.

    • Thursday 12th June 2014 at 11:50 am

      Hi Johnathan, I agree excellent question. The answer is that if you are dealing with a family that really does not have the ability to pay for a funeral their circumstances will be assessed before help is agreed from the local authority. If help is agreed, then it is unconditional and there really would be nothing to recover. However, If a sibling or member of the immediate family is in employment or has assets then help would not be agreed in the first place. This is part of the problem that funeral directors face. It is really quite difficult now to get a council funeral unless there really is no money or assets in the family what so ever. By family I mean immediate family such as parents, spouses and siblings.

      • Jonathan

        Thursday 12th June 2014 at 6:23 pm

        Thanks for that, Jo… but my question is, what’s the law, rather than what can councils get away with not paying out to dispose of a body?

        It is of course a separate matter from the funeral payment. I’m appalled to read that ‘circumstances will be assessed before help [from the council] is agreed’, since I understood disposal of a dead body to be a public health issue, and that no person may be held responsible. If a public health problem is treated as a legal liability for any individuals, whether related, liable to maintain etc, or otherwise, it urgently needs addressing especially given that funeral debt in British households is twenty percent/twelve hundred quid and rising. Merely helping people to pay an indefensible charge is not what many of we funeralistas on this blog are about.

        As to providing a funeral (as distinct from a cremation or burial) and recovering costs from third parties, isn’t that just as unlawful as anyone providing any other goods or services without asking (eg; if I arranged a birthday party for you), and then sending in the bailiffs for payment? I’m shocked. The council provides a funeral to accompany a disposal, when it does, out of the goodness of its heart, and out of no legal requirement – since a funeral is an optional extra (cf direct cremation), that much is indisputable. It seems inconceivable that these extra costs are legally recoverable from anyone at all; and if a parent or spouse or sibling, specifically, has been held liable in the past for what was in effect a council ceremony, that would appear at the very least deeply questionable.

        As you must know in the work you do, Jo, just because a person whose job is to know tells you something, that doesn’t mean it’s true; and I’d be very surprised indeed if unlawful acts had not been committed by councils, health authorities and other bodies out of ignorance of their own job. I’m sorry if I appear to be like a dog with a bone on this one, but the question won’t go away until it’s answered with the utmost clarity, as I’m not alone in fully intending to apprise families of their actual rights before advising them on how to act.

  6. Monday 9th June 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Excellent article – With the funeral industry currently running at upwards of 40% bad debt, it is important not only to go to measures of recovery, but to assist the debtor as much as possible. This will undoubtedly lead to better agreements being in place, debts settled and both creditor and debtor being relieved of such a burden. Great article and good on you!

    • Thursday 12th June 2014 at 11:51 am

      Thank you so much for your kind comment.

  7. Monday 9th June 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Great article. Thank you Joanna!

    • Thursday 12th June 2014 at 11:52 am

      Thank you Poppy. If there is ever anything we can do to help you just let us know.

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