Pay up or else

Charles 15 Comments

Ian Godfrey’s brother Michael died intestate aged 40 in August of this year. His funeral arrangements were undertaken by Ian’s sister, Sally. The chosen funeral director was the Nailsea branch of Co-operative Funeralcare, who duly prepared an estimate. Click on it to bring it up to full size (Sally’s full name and address have been redacted): 

The funeral went ahead and, throughout, the people at Nailsea weren’t just exemplary, they were lovely.

Ian and Sally did not have ready funds to pay for Michael’s funeral but they explained (this happens all the time, doesn’t it?) that there was money tied up in assets which would have to be sold. 

They explained this also to Michael’s credit card company, who froze his account and will add no further interest payments to the outstanding sum. They, together with Michael’s other creditors,  are happy to wait until funds are available. “We understand that these things take time,” they all said. 

All, that is, except for Co-operative Funeralcare who, Ian tells me, are “threatening to sue my sister, who paid the deposit and is therefore now considered to be the customer.” There have been demanding letters. Here is the latest demanding  letter. Again, click on it to brig it up to full size. 

The staff at Nailsea have continued to be sympathetic and helpful. It’s the people at “‘credit control’ or whatever they like to call themselves” who are, Ian and Sally feel, being very hard-nosed. Ian adds: “it is on the phone that the threat to sue was more explicit – however they do make it clear that they will not hesitate to do that in their letter.” 

Ian and Sally are desperately anxious about Funeralcare’s behaviour and feel that, though they have kept in constant touch and tried to keep them informed, they simply haven’t been listened to. They don’t want to be sued and they don’t think it’s right that they should be sued. But they don’t know who they can speak to in the organisation to ask for the time they need to liquidate Michael’s assets. 

In their position, what would you do? 


  1. Charles

    I’m assuming that Ian and Sue have put their position into writing, rather than relying on phone calls?

    If not then that would be my starting point – a letter listing the assets that need to be sold, how far along that process is and when funds are likely to be cleared. Make it totally clear that the Funeral balance will be paid first, before any other debts, and that they are committed to paying immediately the funds become available.

    I would then make sure to get the name of the head cheese in Credit Control, plus the area Manager for the Nailsea branch and send/copy the letter to both plus George Tinning. I might even consider copying the letter (along with a covering letter explaining the full circumstances) to the local paper – with all the bad publicity Funeralcare have had this year they will be anxious to avoid more.

    At the very least formally putting it into writing will count in their favour if it does go to court and given the situation it is unlikely that Co-op will win in court anyway – it’s far more likely that the Judge will place a lien on any property/shares owned by their brother than find judgement against the family in these circumstances.

    Playing Devil’s Advocate a little though – this does to some extent depend on exactly what the assets are. If they are a little nebulous like furniture etc that is unlikely to raise much in the way of funds, then I can understand the Co-op’s reluctance to wait.

    1. Charles

      Thank you all for your comments – just a few observations from my side of the fence…

      – we have lost our brother, unexpectedly at a very early age
      – he was not in a good financial position and the sole asset of any value (a two bedroom property) was held jointly between two of us siblings under a trust agreement
      – the one of us who was the trustee lives overseas and attempted to get the matter of the probate sorted out before leaving the UK as he has his own family to take care of and a living to earn
      – Whilst very understanding and helpful, the Probate Office and HMRC each gave conflicting advice leading to a wild goose chase for ‘Letters of Administration’ which it ultimately turned out were not required – this has wasted considerable time.
      – Note that other creditors, including Credit Card companies (whom it is currently fashionable to castigate at every turn) have in fact been more than understanding in their treatment of us… whereas the company or at least their accounts department of that company, who should in their line of work reasonably be expected to show understanding, have ignored communication and been extremely cold in their dealings with us
      – We of course understand that people are in business to make a living, however there are many who do not have the ready cash sitting around to meet unexpected costs that nobody likes discussing, namely those of dying

      – It is seems to be generally accepted that if you have a problem with a creditor of some sort, you give them a call, explain your situation, keep them in the know and make sure they understand that you aren’t running away, they are a top priority – this is what we have been doing… it has had no effect.


      1. Charles

        Hello Ian

        I am sorry to have read all of this but I’m afraid that I’m not the slightest surprised. It’s of no relevance to you that I have blogged repeatedly on this excellent site regarding past inadequacies of Funeralcare (“F’care”). Being a former member of the legal profession and having spent over thirty years concentrating solely on the administration of (deceased) estates, I hope that what follows may be of assistance

        Legally, this is nothing other than a contract between F’care and your Sister as the person who arranged the funeral and who signed off their estimate (as stipulated in the ‘Terms and Conditions section’, para (2)). As far as F’care are concerned, whether there are difficulties in realising assets is I’m afraid, completely immaterial, they are not fussed at all with the source of the funds, they expect payment and that stops with your Sister

        As good a service that you may have had from the Nailsea arranging staff, that level of pleasantness has all now been overcome by the involvement of F’care’s Credit Control Division (“CC”). Those working in CC are not picked for their charm, decency or sympathy in dealing with a client who has suffered a recent bereavement, they are the hard nosed end of the business. Their Client is not you or your Sister, it is The Cooperative Group. The fact that you may have difficulty in realising assets is again immaterial (to them) – you can write as many letters as, but at the end of the day, this will have no effect on them at all. The fact that F’care made profits of £51m last time out is again irrelevant as far as they are concerned, they will say that we cannot treat all of our customers (sic) on this basis and no doubt also that we are unwilling to be flexible too. This business is promoted at ‘grass roots level’ as being caring and sharing and good for the community per se, unfortunately, well………….? Relatives such as you and others who have been put through F’care’s CC ‘mincing machine’ end up with only sad memories of that person’s death and the subsequent funeral. Sadly, all indications are, that F’care seem to be not the slightest bothered by this

        Looking at the legal side of his estate, I am assuming that to minimise further debts etc, you have (all) decided not to instruct a Solicitor and to deal with matters yourselves? which seems to be the case. You will now have realised that both HMRC and the Probate Registry are not there to offer any constructive advice on administering an estate (since this is not their role), their initial involvement begins and ends with the steps necessary to obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration (‘L/A’) to his estate (as he appears to have died without either making or leaving a valid Will). I am afraid that the existence of a ‘Declaration of Trust’ regarding a property held subject to the terms of a trust deed, is something beyond the ambit of the Probate Registry. I am (again) assuming that following his death, Michael’s share in the property has passed outside of his estate and as such is not available for the purposes of providing funds to discharge the liabilities? It is fairly normal practise for a Bank or Building Society (with whom the deceased maintained accounts) to discharge the funeral account very shortly after a death and without the need for L/A to be produced to them (to release assets) and provided that there are funds available. That financial institution will settle direct with the Funeral Director. I know of no instance where Bank’s/Blg Society’s have refused to do this. Does he have any available funds in such accounts? If he has you should definitely approach them (and very quickly too). If there is insufficient available, then I’m sure that what balance is held can be utilised and paid direct to F’care

        What you have found with Credit Card organisations per se in your dealings, is actually ‘standard industry practise’. interest is frozen (with immediate effect from death) and provided you keep them regularly informed with your steps to realise funds, then they will be very amicable

        You and your Sister may well understandably feel that payment of the balance of F’care’s account, is solely ‘a matter for your brother’s estate’ etc but the best advice that I can give you, is pay F’care off now from whatever funds that you individually have available and then recoup this from his assets. You can then look at the remainder of his affairs from a more relaxed point instead of anticipating an envelope from your local County Court with a demand for payment (and I would not be at all surprised that they will action this next week because they very much mean what they say (unless they have been paid beforehand)). I say this on the assumption that there are no liquid funds held as mentioned earlier

        Finally, if I can help in any further way, please email Charles who will then forward this to me



    2. Charles


      I’m afraid that any letter to Tinning (Collingwood or Kershaw or anyone senior at Funeralcare) will have absolutely minus effect, this trio (and others) are totally immune to all things comparable to this and continue to show themeselves as totally beyond any criticism

      ……………after all, Tinning has adopted a brazen/flagrant stance in Charles’ excellent ‘open letters’ to him of a few months back, if those senior at F’care cannot be bothered with those letters, then, err…………. a small matter of a letter regarding an unpaid account, is nothing other than a mere trifle and will certainly not reach them as it will have been ‘filtered out’ by one of their underlings at F’care HQ

      good idea but the impact will be nil



      PS, absolutely no disrespect intended for the family of the man whose thread this refers

  2. Charles

    Looking at the estimate I have to ask the question of why weren’t the family offered a simple funeral by the Co op if funds were going to be a problem. The NAFD state that all members should offer the choice of a simple funeral plan at a cost of £995 plus disbursements. Willow coffins are beautiful but expensive. The professional fees also look quite high. Its up to us as Funeral directors to work with our families and sometimes we have to wait to be paid. Not so good for a small company like my own but I would have thought the the Co=operative were in a position to be a bit more lenient.

    1. Charles


      ……………….ahem, Funeralcare do NOT like ‘simple funerals’, full stop I’m afraid

      yes, they ‘have to offer it’ but the ‘in house culture’ means that it isn’t promoted, when compared to the larger profits generated from selling other funerals. Also, F’care’s arrangers are firmly on notice that Branch/Area Management are opposed to this and after all, it impacts on ‘that individual arranger’s own bonus’ and no doubt it then has a knock on effect on the bonuses received by local Management………………………

      for the ‘source’ of this, please see earlier posts this year, after a certain TV documentary……………



    2. Charles

      Charlotte, Hi

      It’s not just the ‘administration element’ that’s so high, it’s the entire cost of F’care’s services, which totalled £2,625. I appreciate that a Willow Coffin is a couple of hundred more than ‘the basic crem coffin’ but that aside, it’s still a pretty staggering amount

      I have no particular desire to use the initial post as a launching pad to discuss F’care’s costs and to increase Ian’s unhappiness with them but on the face of it, this almost certainly was not a difficult funeral to arrange nor one that involved high mileage. We can see from the estimate that the Coroner was not involved and assume that collection was from a Hospital in Weston-Super-Mare, then to their local hub and subsequently the cortege to a Nailsea address and then to W-S-M Crem. Total time involved for members of this organisation including taking instructions, say no more than five to six hours (from beginning to end). Breaking this down, let’s say, that the proportion of the salary paid to each F’care employee involved in this particular funeral was £7 per hour. We have an Arranger, say two hours, plus two staff for the local collection – 30 minutes, a combined total of £24. At the hub we have two staff carrying out the necessary, say one hour each, a further £14, running total now £38. On the day of the service, five staff members, from the hub to Nailsea then to the Crem. This is a short distance, say one hour for each, that’s another £35. Finally, one staff member to return the family to Nailsea and back to the hub, no more than £7. Staff costs therefore £80

      Removing £80 together with (a) the actual cost to F’care of embalming, of, say £15; and (b) their costs of making the coffin, say £50, comes to £145, leaving £2,480 ‘available’ from which there is the ‘in house’ share of the hearse and the limo, say £280. That leaves a mammoth surplus of £2,200 to go towards offsetting the costs of running both the local branch and the hub but even then, this is a pretty staggering potential profit part of which goes towards keeping those much vaunted local management in their accustomed style of having use of good vehicles and of course ‘the bonus pool’. If every business was as profitable as this, wouldn’t we all be happy. Of course I haven’t included here a proportion of in house costs for yet another vast advertising campaign, Credit Control, those of employing whoever and not forgetting the likely vast remunerations for that famed trio of Tinning, Collingwood and Kershaw. Obviously, I am not against making a necessary profit per se, but………………………..

      This is a business which has a considerable number of branches, X hubs nationwide, an army of local and regional Management, a considerable advertising budget and highly paid senior management too. On the face of it, this is a large and very expensive operation. However, with it’s vast clout, it is in an unenviable position when it comes to negotiating terms with it’s suppliers, such as Binz or Coleman-Milne and can (I assume) acquire vehicles on financial terms that any Independent would struggle to have offered to them. Undeniably it’s very well run and extraordinarily profitable but it’s the profits and the ‘economies of scale’ that this business generates which do not result in such savings/profits being passed back to individual families. So if anyone is wondering how F’care can be so profitable, these sort of figures show how it’s possibly well achieved

      Finally, the section of the above estimate entitled ‘Bringing the deceased into our care…………..’ Let’s say that the actual removal/collection charge element is ‘billed’ to the Client at £200. This involves a trip from the hub to the local Hospital, say 3-4 miles and return. When combined with, say four other removals (at the same time), F’care (and in fairness, they are probably no different from any of the other Corporates or possibly a few of the very largest Independents in combining removals) have just grossed £1,000. Against this we have two staff employed for one hour and a Mercedes Vito (or something similar). Even with vehicle costs, that must result in a profit just on this routine exercise alone of almost £900. Multiply this by such similar removals occuring every week to many of their hubs Nationwide, and one can easily see how this ‘routine event’ alone contributes so significantly to the profitability of their business

      and good luck Charlotte with your small business



    1. Charles


      I’m sure that you will find that this refers to Cooperative Probate/Legal Services, which are cross sold by F’care when arranging a funeral

      ……………ne isn’t going to find any impartial advice there, is one, since the Legal end of the business, will be clearly ‘conflicted out’



  3. Charles

    Looking at this as a funeral director, several aspects stand out.

    Its roughly 3 months since the funeral was ordered, and the invoice requires payment within 28 days. Sounds reasonable.

    The order form that was signed by the NoK has been marked that Credit card will be the preferred method of payment, and the “probate” box has been left blank (yes this might refer to the deposit only, but thats not what the form says).

    That same form makes no mention of the timescale within which payment is required – a double edged sword, which could legally benefit either party…

    The charges appear to be reasonable, and within the boundries of the signed estimate/order form – so, what’s gone wrong?

    From the outset, it smacks of the “elephant in the room”. The very nice people at the funeral home want to help this family. They also want to sell them a funeral, and perhaps dare not elaborate too much on the strict payment rules their head office enforces, for fear of their customers walking out, and going somewhere else.

    The flip side is the family, who are understandably extremely upset. For that reason, much of what is said to them (and not written down) may be difficult to reasonably recall.

    It is probably over-optimism by the family that the assets in question can be realized into cash in a short space of time, a mistake many of us could make, especially in the current financial climate.

    The family are focused on facing the funeral, and the FD on providing what the family has chosen. In that very British tradition, this is not the time to talk about money – is it??

    With no connection to the above family, this brings to mind the true story of the mourner who reported a funeral director to the NAFD for daring to refer his long overdue funeral account to a collection agency. His was the view that funeral directors are somehow above that sort of thing.

    There must dozens of such letters that Fcare, and others, send out each day. Groups, independents, one man bands are all in the same boat.

    Surely the lesson is, tell it as it is. Make sure that your clients are fully aware of both the full costs, and the time they have to pay the bill. Risk being honest and open with your client, and risk the fact they may go elsewhere as a result. Or, sell them a funeral they can realistically afford, if you can.

    They will thank you for it in the end.

  4. Charles

    I’m afraid I agree – three months is a reasonable period of time for payment to be made. I also agree – every effort should have been made to have offered the most basic low cost service and certainly the terms of business should have been clearly explained, written down and understood.

    Having said that with £51 million profit you might have thought funeralcare could be more patient than the little people like myself?

  5. Charles

    Sadly, the arrangers at the front desk in the Funeralcare branches, as at many other chain fds, can with the best will in the world only sell people what’s on the shelves behind them, and may not open the packages to take out just the elements needed. It takes an imaginative undertaker, who works independent of a chain, to sell a funeral the poor people in front of her can afford; but independence and imagination are not among the funeral industry’s most abundant assets.

  6. Charles

    Further to my previous post on this topic, much depends upon exactly what was said between both parties when the “deal was struck”.

    In my opinion, if the family made it clear from the outset that they were not in a position to make payment within a specified timescale, and the FD accepted their “order” on that basis, then the FD will have to live with the consequences of the verbal contract.

    It would then become a matter of going to some form of arbitration or court of Law to determine what was reasonable in those particular circumstances.

    All depends whether that particular bit of conversation took place.

  7. Charles


    interesting, is it not, that we never hear of Dignity (or any of the other Corporates) on this and other similar issues?

    it’s always good old F’care…………………………………………………



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