To the trustees of all hospices in the UK

Fran Hall

 

Last weekend, we despatched letters to the boards of trustees of every hospice in the UK to share our concerns about the new franchise offer that was launched at the Hospices UK conference the previous week.

Our misgivings about this venture are shared by a number of individuals and companies who gave permission for their names to be added in support. The letter is published in full below, together with the names of those who agree with us.

 

The Chair of the Board of Trustees

SAMPLE Hospice

December 1st 2017

HOSPICE FUNERALS: THE GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE COUNSELS CAUTION

Dear Trustees of SAMPLE Hospice

We write regarding the recent launch of Hospice Funerals LLP, of which you may well be aware. Should you not have heard of this new venture, it is a joint collaboration between St. Margaret’s Hospice Ltd. in Somerset and Memoria Ltd., owner /operator of a number of crematoria around the country and of Low Cost Funeral Ltd.

Hospice Funerals is offering all UK hospices the opportunity of a becoming a partner in their franchise funeral director scheme by becoming a ‘Hospice Provider’, entitled to operate exclusively within a defined area, offering undertaking services branded under the hospice name. For full details, please see the Hospice Funeral website https://www.hospicefunerals.co.uk/

The Good Funeral Guide wishes to draw the attention of the Board of Trustees to the very serious concerns that we have about this proposed new revenue stream generator, despite the public proclamations of how this will address the issue of funeral poverty and ‘bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities.’

As a trusted, not for profit, social enterprise company, wholly independent of the funeral industry, that has for years supported, empowered and represented the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK, we would be delighted to see a truly ethical, community focused undertaking service evolving from the hospice movement; indeed, we have a blueprint guide to how to set up such a model on our website which we developed in partnership with the Plunkett Foundation several years ago.

Unfortunately, this new model proposed by Hospice Funerals does not, in our opinion, fall into the category of an ethical, community focused service, despite the marketing hype.

THE COMMERCIAL RISK

  1. It is a franchise operation, which is intended to utilise ‘brand recognition’ of the hospice name to leverage advantage over existing providers of undertaking services in the franchise catchment area (defined by Hospice Funerals) and by ‘disrupting the market’, in the process conveniently increasing the numbers of cremations carried out by the crematoria owned by Memoria Ltd.

The Good Funeral Guide is not aware of the successful application of any franchise model to the business of funerals. Franchise operations are best suited to selling merchandise, not personal service. The franchise model proposed by Hospice Funerals is wholly unproven.

  1. Figures provided by Hospice Funerals indicate an extremely optimistic analysis of the potential income of a ‘Hospice Provider’. Their analysis suggests that a single unit operation offering funeral packages at their pre-specified prices, requiring a capital input of £110,00, would generate £356,500 through sales of 100 ‘at-need’ funerals and 46 pre-arranged funerals in year one, yielding profit of £26,656. Year three sales are projected as comprising 200 ‘at-need’ funerals, 120 pre-arranged, generating £212,964 profit.

The Good Funeral Guide contends that these figures are misleading, to say the least.

The ‘funeral market’ is, by admission of the directors of Memoria Ltd, already saturated with providers. In the town of Taunton, where the first Hospice Funerals unit is scheduled to open in early 2018, there are currently twelve funeral directors catering for the needs of local bereaved families. This in an area with a population of 109,000 (the borough of Taunton Deane) and an average UK death rate of 9.4 per 1,000.

Figures quoted by the representatives of Hospice Funerals at the launch of the scheme last week cited the average cost of funerals in some areas as being ‘well over £6,000’.

This figure was derived from the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017 and was arrived at by adding the cost of a burial in a specific London Borough, Kensal Green, (£9,809) to the cost of a cremation in the same borough (£3,223) and dividing in two.

It is mysterious that the Royal London Report didn’t allow for the fact that almost 80% of UK funerals are cremations. A more accurate average would be to factor in the percentage split of types of funeral, (20 x £9,808 + 80 x £3,223, divided by 100), which would result in an average cost of a funeral in the most expensive location in the UK being £4,504, not the much more alarming figure of £6,516 quoted in the report.

Note: all monies that will be paid into a Hospice Funerals pre-arranged funeral plan will be held in a Royal London whole-of-life policy, indicating a close and perhaps unquestioning relationship between the two bodies.

Directly related to the above ‘average cost of funerals’, the prices of the funeral packages offered by Hospice Funerals range from £1,295 for an unattended service at a Memoria crematorium to £3,500 for a traditional service with a hearse and bearers at a crematorium of your choice.

In comparison with the inflated figures quoted as the cost of an average funeral, this might seem to be a wholly worthy attempt to address funeral poverty, as it was described at the Hospice Funerals launch, yet the prices of their funeral packages are equivalent with, and in some cases higher than, those currently charged for comparable services by most independently owned funeral directors.

As an example, two Good Funeral Guide Recommended Funeral Directors in the Taunton area (where the first white labelled Hospice Funerals unit will start operating in 2018) are both lower priced for the same traditional funeral service, with all third-party costs included:

Wallace Stuart Lady Funeral Directors (Bridgwater) £2,630.00

Crescent Funeral Directors (Taunton) £3,000.00

Hospice Funerals £3,500.00

The Good Funeral Guide is concerned that the figures quoted by Hospice Funerals could erroneously lead hospices to think that they would have a straightforward price advantage over competitors in offering a local undertaking service, when this would simply not be the case.

THE REPUTATIONAL RISK

We also consider the employment of the name and reputation of hospice, both specifically in the use of the individual name of a local franchisee, and nationally in the use of the company name ‘Hospice Funerals’, to be a calculated, and indeed one could say cynical, attempt to persuade the public that this new undertaking model is simply an extension of the highly reputable and locally supported end of life care provided by their cherished local hospice.

The fact that it is in fact a white label operation, maximizing the use of the ‘brand name’ of the hospice in each area, controlled by Memoria Ltd, who have divided the UK into ‘catchments’ of 100,000 people (and who are proffering these 650 areas for sale at £10,000 p.a. franchise opportunities to hospices as a means of securing their much-needed income) seems to be lost somewhere in the marketing spin.

We would suggest any hospice considering entering an arrangement of this kind notes the following:

  • Other franchisees could give the brand a bad reputation
  • All profits (a percentage of sales) are shared with the franchisor.
  • The franchise agreement will include restrictions on how you can run the business. You might not be able to make changes to suit your local market.
  • You may find that after time, ongoing franchisor monitoring becomes intrusive
  • The franchisor might go out of business.

Reputational damage to individual hospices signing up to this opportunity could potentially be catastrophic. Legacy donations and in memoriam fundraising could be seriously impacted if families elect to use a hospice funeral home, as they could consider they have done their ‘giving back’ to the hospice through their payment of the fees involved with the funeral.

The move from being perceived as a deserving recipient of gifts and donations to being seen as a money-making business entity, competing with established, trusted and well-liked funeral providers, is a subtle but potentially disastrous one, impacting on the public perception that a hospice is a wholly altruistic organisation.

Comments on our blog post about the advent of Hospice Funerals have been overwhelmingly against the idea of hospices entering the supplying of funeral services.

Phrases used include ‘unethical’ (several times) ‘goes against every principle a hospice should stand by’, ‘will negatively impact their charitable and bequest income’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘risk losing this public support’, ‘at what point does care and support for the dying and impartial advice given to a family suddenly at sea after a death turn into a sales opportunity?’

On social media, there has been a similar reaction. Questions have been asked about the arms-length relationship between a hospice and its funeral home – how will this work in reality? What will be the impact on the current relationship with local undertakers when the hospice enters the marker as a direct competitor? How will the new hospice funerals service be promoted to the community, and how will this be reacted to?

It seems to us that hospices will be carrying all of the risk in the hope of optimistically calculated but completely unproven rewards.

If SAMPLE HOSPICE is considering partnering with Hospice Funerals, we would counsel strongly that the trustees take heed of our concerns before making your final decision to risk your donated funds to venture into competition against the local funeral directors who work so closely with you to look after the families of those whose lives end in your care.

The Good Funeral Guide is supported in our misgivings about the wisdom of this new venture by the individuals and organisations listed below, some of whom may be known to you as local, independently owned undertakers who share our fears about this seductive offer being touted to hospices around the UK.

Should you wish to contact me directly about this I would be more than happy to discuss our collective concerns further. My e-mail address is fran.hall@goodfuneralguide.co.uk.

Fran Hall

CEO Good Funeral Guide CIC

On behalf of the board of directors of the Good Funeral Guide and the undersigned supporters.

 

A Oliver & Sons Funeral Directors

A.W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service Ltd

Adrian Pink – Town & Country Funerals

Alistair Turner Funeral Directors

Allistair Anderson & Hasina Zaman – Compassionate Funerals

Amanda Pink – Evelyn’s Funerals

Andrew Dotchin (Reverend)

Andrew Smith Funeral Service

Angie McLachlan MA; BA Hons, BIE

Anna Briggs – Independent Officiator of bespoke funeral ceremonies

Anne & Simon Beckett-Allen – Rosedale Funerals

C Waterhouse & Sons

Carrie-Ann Rouse – Rouse & Co. Independent Funeral Directors

Carrie Weekes & Fran Glover – A Natural Undertaking

Claire Turnham – Only With Love

Claire Young – Young’s Independent Funeral Services

Clare Brookes – VW Funerals

Colin Liddell – Liddell Funeral Services

Coles Funeral Directors

David Hardie & Son Funeral Directors

David Holmes – Holmes & Family

Don O’Dwyer – O’Dwyer Funerals

E A Dodd & Son

Edward Towner – Arthur C. Towner Ltd

Emma Curtis – Secular Minister, Celebrant & Grief Counsellor

Eric Massie Funeral Directors

Gail Willington – Elizabeth Way & Company

Gordon Tulley & Alison Finch – Respect Woodland Green Burial Parks

Heathfield Funeral Service

Jacob Conroy & Sons Funeral Directors

James L Wallace Funeral Directors

Jane Morgan – Jane Morgan Ceremonies

Jeremy Neal – Rotherham Funerals

Jo Loveridge – Albany Funerals

John Beattie & Sons Funeral Directors

John Pinder – W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd

Judith Dandy – Dandelion Farewells

Judy Mansfield – Cherish Ceremonies

Karen & Julian Hussey – A. G. Down

Leverton & Sons

Louise Winter – Poetic Endings

Lucy Coulbert – The Individual Funeral Company & Coulbert Family Funerals

Like & Liz Farthing – Farthing Funeral Service

Maggie Brinklow & Tony Killen – Margaret Rose & Bespoke Funerals

Malcolm Jones – Molyneux Jones Family Funeral Directors

Mark Binnersley MPRCA Communications Consultant

Martin Stibbards – S. Stibbards & Sons

Matthew Lucas Funeral Directors

Michael & Clare Gamble – Michael Gamble Funeral Directors

Nick Armstrong – Armstrongs Funeral Service

Nikki Hill – Bright-Hill Funerals

Overmass & Chapple

Paul Burrows Gibson – Veterans Funerals UK

Paul Sullivan – Sullivan Funeral Directors

Peace Funerals

Peter Grenfell Funeral Directors

Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals

Philip & Sallie Evans – Sussex Funeral Directors

Rosalie Kuyvenhoven – Rituals Today

Robert Samson Funeral Directors

Rupert Callender – The Green Funeral Company & Callender, Callender, Caughty & Drummond

Saint & Forster Funeral Directors

Simon Helliar-Moore & Robert Helliar-Moore – Crescent Funerals

Simon Smith – Green Fuse, Heart & Soul Funerals

Southgate & Roberts

Tim Coombe – Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician

Tim Purves – William Purves Funeral Directors

Tilly Munro – Community Funeral Specialist

Toby Angel – Sacred Stones Ltd.

Tom Woodhouse Funeral Directors

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

W G Catto Funeral Directors

W G Potter

Wood & Hay Funeral Directors

7 thoughts on “To the trustees of all hospices in the UK

  1. Fran Hall
    Mary

    It is particularly bad that, according to your research, they seem to have been untruthful about their price advantage compared to some undertakers. It is good you pointed it out in this letter. In a similar vein, can you analyse the contradictions between the many claims on the ecoLegacy website and their various planning applications in a similar way? This would be in the public interest as it would save UK and Irish planning authority time and public disgruntlement. I am not sure if this is true or not, but it is being said on the grapevine that many organisations who went to see them in Dublin during the last year or so were offered an opportunity to invest. Investors deserve clearer information too.


    Fran Hall
  2. Fran Hall
    Mary

    If the board of trustees of a hospice charity is tempted to buy any sort of franchise (yikes, heaven help them, why would a trusty trustee do that) then they’d be better of with a Subway or Creams franchise or similar. I presume that the first hospice to get this franchise will get a better deal than the others just for demonstrating this new franchise opportunity. Eeven without the franchise fee it’s not great. I don’t think Hospice Funerals is a good name anyhow. The hospice label would not sell it to me except, perhaps, for a relative who had benefited from a hospice. I way prefer the name “Gone too soon” which claims not to be a franchise. Any charity considering purchasing this hospice funeral franchise would do well to get some legal advice first. How about approaching Wright Hassall LLP. Now that’s a good name.


    Fran Hall
    1. Fran Hall
      Michael Jarvis

      Or up the road from them to Birmingham where you will find Price Mistry…


      Fran Hall
      1. Fran Hall
        Mary

        Oh that’s an even better name. Then there used to be an Ake More & Co in Leeds. Why aren’t funeral directors a bit more inventive?

        But back to hospice funerals, how much are they charging for this franchise? Are there many other franchise funeral businesses in the UK?

        Oh, and if they do change the use of some of the high street charity shops to funeral director premises, can embalming, refrigeration etc take place in the back of a shop or does it have to be done somewhere else? What are the planning rules?


        Fran Hall
        1. Fran Hall
          Michael Jarvis

          Two serious questions have been posed here regarding property matters and whilst I can’t answer them definitively I can confidently recommend caution. I think I should go further: due diligence relating to premises must be exhaustive by any hospice looking at this model.

          Would change of use be required? In terms of the Taunton shop I don’t know, but it is likely. I gave consultative advice in support of one application elsewhere in the country where the premises had an existing light industrial usage; the application for a mortuary and refrigerated provision was hotly contested by local residents who advanced a lot of objections based on ignorance (I use the word here in its slightly old-fashioned sense) and although we got there in the end it wasn’t without a lot of worry for the applicant.

          Business Rates? What a mare’s nest. The 2017 revaluation was in itself tricky as the normal five year interval had been extended to suit Government expediency. I have looked at a whole heap of assessments for FD’s premises and the situation is complex. In many cases after a seven year gap the jump has had the painful effect of taking the premises outside the parameters for small business relief. (Yes, there’s transitionary but hey, ho…) What is just as important here is Charity relief. Would hospices be entitled? To my mind this is a supreme grey area. Charity bookshops and shops selling clothes and brick-a-brac get it, so why not? It would depend quite heavily on the fine print of the franchise agreement, I reckon. But it would need to be looked at very carefully. To take Taunton as an example, the current RV is about £20,000 (rough figures here) so receiving charity relief at its mandatory percentage would give a bill equivalent to £155 a month rather than £775 a month without it.


          Fran Hall
          1. Fran Hall
            Mary

            Yes – it would be interesting to understand all the financial ins and outs of being the trading arm of a charity better. Without understanding the restrictions and disadvantages ( which presumably there are many or all businesses would be at it), One can see a day where a multiplicity of different business could operate as the trading arm of a charity to get the benefits. The charity commission still has few teeth.


            Fran Hall
  3. Fran Hall
    David Holmes

    Terrific letter, and great to see so many respected people in the industry supporting it. This scheme is a very poor idea and I just cannot see the wonderful UK hospice movement backing it en masse.


    Fran Hall

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