Here’s an interesting article from the Milton Keynes Citizen which describes a Trading Standards department that sets the pace for some of the rest:
Milton Keynes Council Trading Standards has recently undertaken a project looking at the funeral directors industry to determine if businesses are compliant with consumer protection legislation.
The trade within Milton Keynes consists of five single branch independents, three independents with more than one place of business and one larger company, in addition to the Muslim funeral service that is arranged through the local Mosque.
Of these 40 per cent belong to one or both of the funeral trade associations, either the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).
In relation to disclosing business names 50 per cent were compliant with the legislation. Those that were not compliant failed to display either the registered name in relation to a limited company, or its business name and address in relation to an individual or partnership.
In one instance, where the registered name was not displayed it would have indicated that the business was actually owned by a large company with 30 branches under different business names across the South of England, rather than the perception given of it being an independent funeral director.
The use of small business names by the larger companies suggests that they are implying they are independent funeral directors when in fact they are not.
When questioned one larger company stated that the independent name had been kept as a business name due to the high regard in which the original company had been held locally.
In relation to pricing, 90 per cent of the funeral directors were compliant with the legislation where applicable.
Those funeral directors belonging to one or both of the trade associations’ offer, in line with the associations codes of practice, a ‘simple’ or ‘basic’ funeral service. Included in the price of this service is the cost of the coffin and no coffin options are available.
However, where a more bespoke service is offered with multiple coffin options then a price list was available.
Only one company did not have a price list for the coffin options.
Advice was given in relation to the descriptions of coffins to one company because in the descriptions of the two lower end price options, the cheapest coffin was described as being constructed from paper and the next, and more expensive as ‘wood veneer’, yet both were made of the same construction, merely a different patterned covering.
Two companies described ‘embalming’ as ‘hygienic treatment’ which they stated was an industry standard description. However, although this term was known by the other businesses in Milton Keynes only two businesses used this type of description for embalming. One company stated that although this description is used on their paperwork it is verbally made clear what this treatment is, and neither one offered or carried out the treatment on a regular basis.
One company however, have their own embalmer who carries out over 400 embalmings per year across two geographical areas, including Milton Keynes.
None of the other funeral directors carried out more than 1 or 2 embalmings per year.
In relation to advising customers of their right to cancel the contract, if the contract was signed in the home, only 30% were compliant with the legislation.
All of the businesses who were non-compliant undertook to make changes to become compliant with the relevant legislation and two have successfully applied to become trading standards approved on the Council’s Buy with Confidence scheme.
Karen Ford, head of trading standards in Milton Keynes states: “It is concerning that so many non-compliances were detected but I am reassured things will be put right.
“What is more concerning is the rate of embalmings, which are not always a necessary treatment. My advice to consumers, during one of the most difficult periods in their life, is to ensure they are still getting a fair deal by getting a full breakdown of costs and not to be pressured into paying for something that is not necessary.”
Karen Ford also said: “We are delighted that HW Mason & Sons and Finch & Sons have been accepted onto the Buy With Confidence scheme. Our consumers can now make their choice knowing that at least two local businesses will comply with trading laws and treat their customers fairly.”
We wondered if we detected the hand of Teresa Evans in this. We asked her. No, not directly, she says. But we suppose that Teresa has somewhat raised awareness of consumer protection in the matter of funerals in what is now her home town. She says: “I have written to the Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute on a number of occasions calling for a campaign to raise funeral consumer awareness. I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement, so I was quite surprised to learn about this recent project.”
When Teresa writes to you, you know you’ve been written to, whether you reply or not. And she’s not letting it rest there, oh no, not Teresa. She is now in the process of firing off a Freedom of Information request to Trading Standards demanding the names of those firms of undertakers who were inspected and found wanting.
Find Teresa Evans’ website here.
Full text of the article in the Milton Keynes Citizen here.