Charles Cowling

Okay then, what’s so what’s our line on the latest media coverage of Funeralworld sparked by the ‘consumer advocacy organisation’ Which? deploring mendacious, predatory funeral directors?

All the age-old charges are levelled against funeral directors: opaque pricing, upselling, and talking people into services they don’t need like embalming. Out of 20 funeral directors mystery shopped by Which? the advice offered by 14 was rated poor or very poor.

This is what we think.

First, consumers have a duty to prepare, in advance of any commercial transaction they enter into, by informing themselves and shopping around. Funerals are no different. Perhaps they should be, but just now this is the way we do things, so tough. Buying a funeral is no different from buying a fridge. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a second-hand car. The first rule of capitalism is never give a sucker an even break.

Second, Which? has a very poor claim to be a consumer advocate in the area of funerals. Why? Because the Which? guide What To Do When Someone Dies is written by an funeral industry insider. That insider is Anne Wadey. Anne Wadey heads up the Bereavement Advice Centre, which is financed by the Independent Trust Corporation (ITC), a probate specialist, and sponsored by the NAFD. ITC’s reputation is deplorable. Have a look at the Review Centre website here. The latest review (12.12.2011) begins: “ITC Legal Services _ Never consider using them!” Please anyone out there contemplating using this firm for probate work, don’t don’t don’t! They are complete charlattans who lull you into a false sense of security that they will support you during a time of need and are actually only after fleecing the estate of your loved one. They have upset me so badly, I feel unable to even telephone them and consider taking them to court for misrepresentation is the only way forward.

We first looked at ITC in June 2010. If you’d like more detail, click here.

Third, this so-called survey by Which? is irresponsibly sensation seeking. Sure, they “applaud the examples of empathy and good practice we did see” — but there’s no reference to this in the Daily Mail report.

The effect is to tar all funeral directors with the same brush. This is terribly unfair.

Here at the GFG we are no strangers, obviously, to vile service from lying, cheating bastards trading as funeral directors.

We are also aware that some of the nicest, kindest, most principled people you could ever hope to meet also trade as funeral directors.

If Which? wanted to do consumers a service, this is what they would have said. They would have said that the good news is that anyone, anywhere, can find an ethical, golden-hearted funeral director who’ll look after them wonderfully well.

But they didn’t. They chose to stir the shit to get themselves a bit of cheap publicity.

And our completely crap media fell for it.


Daily Mail story here

Daily Telegraph story here 

27 thoughts on “Which? hunt

  1. Funeralworld's Hallelujah Chorus – The Good Funeral Guide

    […] stuff about Funeralworld coming out of the media these days – stuff like the Which? survey (here) and Channel 4′s Dispatches recent exposé of Co-operative […]

  2. Charles Cowling

    Quite so, David. Hear, hear.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    It would be a start if the cost of a basic cremation were stated. In my experience, and the experience of Which, many larger funeral directors do not offer this service – even when words like ‘simple’ or ‘basic’ are used by the enquirer. This seems to me to be a breach of the NAFD code. I wonder if someone could ask the NAFD what action was taken against any FD found to be doing this in the past 12 months?

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    Thanks, Tracey.
    I know prices have to be on display in the premises, but didn’t know if there was any guidance on websites.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    I’ve said it before: but the problem with fds displaying prices is that each has his individual way of pricing. (Very often eccentric, in fact.)

    So, collecting a body could be £100/£200 for fds A/B respectively, but A could charge £15 a day storage while B charges nothing… viewing in chapel of rest: A£x/B£y, bearers: A£e/B£w, and so on, through the list of items.

    Confusing. Unless you knew how many days you want the body stored, which coffin you’d choose from different fds’ catalogues (which of course are only comparable between identical coffins anyway), whether one has Volvo limousines and another Mercedes and whether you want them anyway and what for, and and and and and… – in short, unless you know exactly what you’re talking about and what you want down to the last daffodil on a wreath – an undertaker’s price list is about as much use to a shocked and grieving relative as is a remote garage’s price list sent to the mobile phone of a driver broken down on the motorway at night.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Tracey Warren

    Hi Jenny the NAFD Code of Practice states that price lists must be on display and readily avaiable. (Im not a SAIF member so cant comment for them)

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    Genuine question here (remember I’m very new to all this!) Have the NAFD or SAIF ever tried to get members to display prices? Do we know what their opinion of the practice of displaing prices on websites is?

    Tracy, some brilliant ideas there…thank you!

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling

    I agree Colin: the best disinfectant is sunlight. The marketing tactic to adopt at a time like this is transparency. I’m always surprised how much this shocks so many funeral directors.

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling

    Tony, you make a very good point. That the trade bodies SAIF and NAFD are unable to secure the co-operation of members in displaying price lists reminds one that self-regulation is, actually, no regulation. Perhaps this really is a crisis moment for the industry. The good guys need to find a way of differentiating themselves – by forming an elite.

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Colin Fisher

    If you visit my website all my prices are clear and precise for everyone to see, I have nothing to hide and it gives anyone looking for a cost a chance to look at them in the comfort of their own homes without pressure. I sometimes have people call to ask for any hidden extras, so I do think people are enticed through the door of some funeral directors with false prices then hit with extras and in their bereaved state are made to feel guilty and pay it, so I think that funeral directors should have clear price lists on their websites.

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Colin Fisher

    #I totally agree with Charles’comments.And to add to them, I personally did not like the comment;
    ‘There were also huge differences in the price of a simple coffin, ranging from £160 with the Co-op to as much as £690 with an independent company’.
    I can’t see an independent or a large company for that matter charging £690 for a simple coffin.
    As to embalming, there are advantages to this, but I charge £100 and pay the embalmer £80 the £10 goes towards other costs, but if the embalming involves that of a post mortemed deceased then I pay the embalmer £100 so trying to push embalming does not affect my profit. I do offer a simple funeral at a very competitive rate and NEVER try to upsell. This report by ‘Which’ tars us all with the same brush and with the Eastenders soap funeral director charging £15000 for Pat Butchers funeral, the public must think we are all money grabbing so and so’s.

    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Perhaps we FD’s should ask our trade associations NAFD and SAIF to make it compulsory for any FD with a website, to provide a clear and accurate price list on it? Wow! That would be a revolution eh?

    Kingfisher, I take your point about marketing. Not all of ours costs money – some does!

    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Tony Bryer

    “First, consumers have a duty to prepare, in advance of any commercial transaction they enter into, by informing themselves and shopping around.”. Nice idea, but how many FDs make their price lists (which should be more than price lists, also informing people of choices they may not have considered) available online? And then when someone tries to get information, “When arranging my wife’s funeral I visited a branch of Dignity (Geo. S. Munn) to see what they had to offer. When asked for prices they became very evasive and refused to give any.” (Mail comments). There are honourable exceptions of course, some highlighted on this site.

    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling

    David, I agree that marketing is difficult, and I’d add that it’s time consuming, but I don’t agree that it has to be costly.

    Tracey hits the nail on the head when she says that we need to adapt. That is what the small independents should be brilliant at. They don’t have the head offices to ask, they can just do exactly as they want.

    Adapting doesn’t have to cost money. In fact, I firmly believe that it can save money, both for the funeral director and the client. That has to be good news for everyone.

    If we adapt our busines model, and make the clients asking for the lowest priced services those who we are priveleged to work with, rather than those we wish would go away, the results are quite amazing.

    And I don’t just mean doing funerals on the cheap, incidentally.

    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    Tracey Warren

    David that is so true we have never had such a high level of bad debt or dss claims

    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    In these recessionary times people seem to believe funerals are a certainty. No doubt the Plc and Venture capitalists use this to their advantage when raising investor interest.

    The reality for the small FD is different. It gets a bit boring when friends assume you are making money at a time almost everyone else is struggling. For very obvious reasons, at present we have more bad debt and families asking for our lowest price services, as well as making economies with their choices.

    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Tracey Warren

    That’s very true shareholding companies seem to be increasing in our business. And your exactly right about adverts – same old same old I’ve set up a website and when people look at the home page it doesn’t look like a funeral directors. Also investing in going to agricultural fairs locally has paid off massively I also am having a trade stand and 40 min presentation at a local mind body and spirit fair (lots of crystals holistic readings etc) when I asked if I could the response could not have been more positive. I want my business to move forward but I’m conscious that my business needs to adapt.

    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Marketing in our business is extremely difficult and costly. I have spent many frustrating years, looking at boring Ads (including mine) that seem to say the same old things.

    Reaching the people you wish to serve takes more than advertising. The internet is playing a bigger part and will do in time ahead but it’s not the only answer. My latest Ad has an unusual picture and tag line. It’s not obviously an Ad for a funeral home.

    The business model of the largest FD’s appears to rely on trading on the success of the past owner. To a certain degree this has worked for them, but will it in future? In most other industries increased competition reduces prices. This is not happening in the funeral world because the biggest players are losing market share. With high fixed costs and profits needed to delight shareholders, they put prices up.

    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    It sure does make sense, Tracey, and good luck to you, wish you worked in my area!

    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Tracey Warren

    The problem is funeral directors have become complacent – the attitude well they have used us before they will come to us again. Good funeral directors now have to start thinking outside the box to stand out from the crowd and – ultimately take a financial gamble. I’m happy for families to provide their own coffins, bearers transport etc but the horror stories I’ve heard about other families being told by a funeral director that they were not allowed to supply their own coffin due to health and safety ! Interestingly as someone who worked for a big multi- national (for 18 months never again ) they sell the embalming as a package – dressing hygienic treatment and care of your loved one. And it was worded so that it gave the families no option but to buy it.
    Some funeral directors will argue with me that ‘a good funeral director never needs to advertise’ that is rubbish old families move out of area new people come in the funeral director needs to say come to us we are different. For the past three years our natural burial ground and I have had a trade stand at 2 agricultural fairs – I can honestly say that we have probably spoken to in excess of 2000 in that time and every single one of them wanted something different be it a farming coffin, woodland burial or bespoke funeral . People want change but the funeral director has to advertise change.
    Ps hope that all makes sense 🙂

    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Please not the £2 – £2,500 quoted did not include a cremation fee, Doctor’s fees or a Minister’s fee.

    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    By coincidence yesterday I called my competitors. I do this once a year to check prices and assess the quality of their service. Each time I told them I wanted something simple, a cremation without a limousine or ‘viewing’ as they love to call it. All quoted in excess of £2,000, most nearer £2,500. None mentioned embalming – although I got the impression this was included. Two told me I had to pay for a limousine even if it was not required. Two kept saying ‘bless’ and ‘ahhh’ despite the fact they had no idea on whose behalf I was calling. One assumed the ‘deceased’ was my father. I did not actually say anyone was dead! None of the firms were independent. Based on my calls, I should have little to worry about.

    In case you are interested, I listen carefully to anyone calling me before deciding what to offer. I will help if families want to do it all themselves and can supply a coffin for less than £100.

    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling

    Quite so, David. People have awful or indifferent experiences when, half a mile away, they could have had a brilliant experience.

    I think good independents could help themselves by energetic marketing and positive differentiation. They need to tell people what they need to know. This is how the game is played on a commercial playing field. Off with the gloves!

    Charles Cowling
  24. Charles Cowling

    Fran, I take your point. Consumers are so overwhelmed by the death, and enter into the process of engaging a FD with such low expectations of the entire experience, especially the frightful ordeal at the crematorium, that they blunder into the first undertaker’s they see with a heavy heart and their hands in the air. This is very corrupting of some funeral directors.

    As to the long road ahead, I’m not so sure that we need go there. Perhaps the way we do things now doesn’t work, can never work and needs to be abandoned. Specialist undertakers have not been around all that long and they’ve made a poor fist of things.Let’s call time on them.

    Let the people reclaim their dead from the undertakers; let communities reassume the role they relinquished; let death be normalised.

    Half of me thinks that we can fix things as they are. The other half dreams of radical alternatives.

    Have you seen the comments under the Mail piece? Almost makes you think the game’s up. If the industry destroys itself it will not just be the Obvious Targets who will carry the blame. SAIF will also bear its share.

    I’ve just refused to co-operate with Radio 5 on the grounds that their editorial line is misinformed and unhelpful. But maybe what the industry needs is a bloody good crisis.

    Charles Cowling
  25. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    I agree with every word Charles. Sadly I sincerely believe it’s the consumer at fault here. In any industry where free choice exists, the buyer could inform themselves in advance of committing to the transaction. That so few do this is a source of genuine misery to me. My local parish magazine January edition featured 17 local people who passed away in December. I didn’t recognise any of the names – the families had opted to use a big business funeral director, paying a lot more for the privilege of getting a package funeral with little choice. Unless people bother to learn more about death and the local firms who serve them – nothing much will change even when the media do this kind of ‘death is a RIP off’ nonsense.

    Charles Cowling
  26. Charles Cowling
    Fran Hall

    Aah Charles, always unpredictable in your views and informed in your knowledge of who’s behind the headlines.
    Despite the caveat emptor approach I have a inkling you know in your water that your average customer of your average funeral director has no more undertaken their duty to prepare than fly to the moon – the vast majority are like rabbits in the headlights of the profit making machines that are behind many of the high street names.

    The summary in The Telegraph is (unsurprisingly) better balanced than that in The Mail, the content of both is irrevocably damning to the companies involved and, by association, the industry as a whole, not least for the fact that ‘only half of the funeral homes that subscribe to the industry code offered the option of a “simple” funeral.

    From long years of experience in the business I am unsurprised by the findings, saddened by the failures of the individuals concerned and contemplating with not a little weariness the long road ahead to tip the balance so that the good guys out there are the norm rather than the hidden treasures.

    Finding an ethical, golden hearted funeral director who’ll look after families wonderfully well is more by luck than judgement at the moment – fortunate for the few who brace themselves and do their research, unlucky for the rest – odds appear to be stacked 7 to 3 against tripping over someone who listens and responds rather than delivers the sorry company line of their masters.

    Charles Cowling
  27. Charles Cowling
    Simon Ferrar

    Calm down dear it’s only a commercial.

    Biff! Pow! Oofgh…take that!

    Trouble with you Charles is you’re just to damn nice.

    Next time you could be a tad more candid.

    Love it !

    Charles Cowling

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