Dog eats dog. Move on, leave them to it

Charles 11 Comments

Here’s the hot news:

“… we can today formally announce that we have initiated legal proceedings against the UK’s largest provider of pre-paid funeral plans, Golden Charter, seeking substantial damages for their actions against Safe Hands Funeral Plans.”

Yes, the Yorkshire terriers have gone for the throat of wee Big Dawgie, and they ain’t stopping there:

“Further claims against other companies are imminent and will be announced at a later date.”

Blimey, what’s this all about?

It seems that Safe Hands “recorded video and audio footage (presented, in January 2015, to the perpetrators via our solicitors) that shows representatives of most of the major plan providers launching vicious, unprovoked, verbal attacks – primarily against Safe Hands, but on each other as well…all in a desperate and shamefully unprofessional effort to get an edge over the competition.” Looks like a sting.

While the lawyers order trebles all round and get ready to enwrap both parties in litigation for as long as legally possible, the good citizens of Funeralworld tremble. A lot of heavily soiled linen looks like being washed in public. God forbid that the public learn just how much of the money they spend on a funeral plan gets divvied up among sundry predators in the form of commissions, sales and marketing costs, directors’ wages, you name it.

Golden Charter describes itself as “owned by and run entirely for the benefit of independent funeral directors”, a claim a great many independent funeral directors now reject. On its website, GC confesses “We work on behalf of more than 3,300 independent funeral directors throughout the UK.” Why on earth would anyone want to buy a funeral plan that works in the service of the very people who stand to make money out of them? Beats us.  

But GC has achieved a market share great enough to enable it effectively to act as funeral broker, and that’s seriously worrying. So: praise the Lord if the hullabaloo has the effect of concentrating minds and curing funeral directors of their dependency on this lousy financial product.

So far as we are concerned at the GFG, the present squabbles are between businesses with a failed business model.

Going forward, we recommend that funeral directors subject a funeral plan to the Lynch Test before endorsing it. The Lynch Test? Yes, the Lynch Test. It goes like this:

Does this plan facilitate face-to-face accountability between the buyer of the funeral– the personal representative of the person who has died — and the seller — the funeral director?

The only good funeral plan is one that restores the lost link between buyer and seller.

Again: The only good funeral plan is one that restores the lost link between buyer and seller.

Can this be achieved? Yes, it can. Shortly, we’ll show you how.

UPDATE 12-02-2015: I wrote to David Latham at NFFD HQ asking how Safe Hands had funded its prime-time ad slot on ITV on 09-02-2015. He replied as follows: 

“The advertising campaign is limited to the Yorkshire area only and was a special introductory package for a new advertiser. Consequently, the amount spent was minimal. More importantly, the cost was met by the NFFD, so I can state, categorically, that it most certainly WILL NOT affect the long term investments of Safe Hands’ plan holders. Whereas some other providers use their clients investments to advertise their services, you may be interested (and comforted) to know that Safe Hands most certainly does not.”


  1. Charles

    Surely ‘The Lynch Test’ omits one very important person from the equation – the person for whom the funeral plan is being bought? Certainly in our experience, the buyer of the funeral plan is the person who will die and require the funeral, not his or her personal representative. But then that will re-ignite the debate on who the funeral is for, I suppose.

    Our company stance is that we only take on funeral plans that we have personally sold, and where this very link, between the buyer and the seller, exists. It may be business suicide – the funeral planning companies who keep trying to get us to take on plans sold by other means would certainly have us believe that – but we refuse point blank to take any other plans. It seems ridiculous to me that a funeral planning company can expect a funeral director to enter into a contract without knowing who the client is, and what he or she has been sold. Frequently, the person trying to get us to take on the plan doesn’t know what the client has been sold either. I’d rather lose future work than run the risk of being involved in one of the many scams which are becoming more and more frequent.

    A big thumbs up to Funeral Planning Services for allowing us to deal with our clients as our own, for not incentivising us to sell more and more plans, for not threatening us with reduced payments if we don’t sell their plans, for not sending reps out who promise to come back in a couple of weeks but never return, for not telling us how we should run our business, for not phoning us telling us a client has asked for us to carry out their funeral yet chosen to contact them directly, for being quietly supportive when we need them, and for paying promptly (and above expectations) when plans are used.

  2. Charles

    Hi Andrew –

    Great to hear that FPS run the same model with their FD’s as us and you’re right, good on them.

    Would be more interested in these apparent scams you speak of as we are trying to ensure the planning industry is eradicated of anything “hooky”.

    Rather annoyingly, your point that “It seems ridiculous to me that a funeral planning company can expect a funeral director to enter into a contract without knowing who the client is, and what he or she has been sold” is the exact reason that we allocate our plans when we do. We give the funeral director’s the real time information, 24 hours prior to being paid out in full and, to date, we haveonly ever had one funeral directors say they don’t want it.

    Mr Cowling,

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. We wish ALL funeral directors would put every planning company to your “Lynch Test”. Those FD’s whom sell our bespoke plans love us. We charge only £30 admin fee and the FD’s receive the balance plus RPI and trust uplift at the point of death and are paid within 24 hours of emailing a Death Certificate. I’ve tried, but I can’t be fairer than that. This plan was designed to give back to the Funeral Directors where we have previously had to offer reduced (albeit still profitable rates).

    As we discussed over coffee the other day, it is a responsibility of all of us to protect the consumer whilst remaining sympathetic to the funeral director. The REALITY to Independents is this – Last year, around half a million Funeral Plans, Funeral Insurances and Life Policies with Funeral Elements were sold. The majority of which will go to the large Corporations in 5, 10, 15 years. With only 500,000 dying per year, where does that leave OUR Independents? Nobody walking in off the street and ability to encourage new business. Love them or hate them, funeral plans, in their current form, are here to stay. All we can hope is that the companies in the market can be transparent in their pricing strategies.

    Finally, I would love one of these large director salaries you speak of, please point me in the direction on HR contacts at appropriate firms 🙂

    Keep Smiling 🙂

    Will xox

  3. Charles

    This all reminds me of the Hodgson-era ‘gold rush’ of the late 1980’s, when I were now’t but a mere youth still learning how to clean t’hearse and screw down a coffin lid.
    Funeral firm owners back then were selling their family businesses like there was no tomorrow. If one firm sold out in an area an amazing number of others would soon follow. (I seem to recall Torquay being one vivid example). Yes, of course, that was back in those heady days of the 80’s when money was sloshing round the country like water in a bucket and people were offered stupendously over-valued amounts for their businesses. But there was also another element at work: fear. They’d all been duped into thinking that if they didn’t sell voluntarily they’d be swept away by the rising corporate tide anyway.
    But meanwhile, Hodgson Holdings started trying to impress the girls with a shiny, nationwide fleet of navy blue Volvo’s, got into a sweaty ménage a trois with Kenyons and Gert Southern, didn’t take any precautions and got pregnant with PHKI, forcing their staff to wear those appalling stripy corporate ties instead of black ones. (After all, back then black was just soooo yesteryear dahling).
    The drama didn’t end there, because PHKI was later date raped by Pompes Funebre Generale and the whole thing turned into an abuse scandal. That was a wake-up call to all the people who’d been frightened into selling their perfectly healthy, well-established, generations-old businesses. They were appalled by what had happened to their ‘old firm’ and set up again afresh, almost without exception wiping the floor with their now-corporate former firms.
    The key word in all my ramblings above is ‘fear’. Go figure…

    1. Charles


      Fear is not born out of hearsay but reality. Sadly, many hard-working and decent Funeral Directors are seeing their good work put at risk by the industry’s current decline in ethics and transparency (or lack of it) –

      Numbers don’t lie i’m afraid and if we don’t all act now, the fear will become a grim reality.

      We have our faults, of course, nobody’s perfect, but we believe in telling things how they are, educating those blind to the movements from above and adopting practices designed to safeguard those who, ironically, give us the most stick.

      Sometimes, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

      Thanks for your comment

      1. Charles


        You’re not being entirely clear and transparent in your comments on this thread though are you? There seems to be a big difference between a funeral director selling a Safe Hands plan and Safe Hands selling a Safe Hands plan.

        You seem to have failed to mention that plans that Safe Hands sell have somewhere between £500 and £1000 taken from the plan value by head office as commission/fees/marketing or whatever you like to call it before a reduced value is offered to the funeral director.

        Is that what’s paying for all your advertising?

        If you’re going to make claims about transparency, honesty and your good name being damaged by Golden Charter then don’t just say the good bits. Be honest, you’re all at it.

        1. Charles

          Dear Concerned FD –

          We have never hidden away from the fact that, when a third party (non FD) sells a plan, we are able to take a maximum of £750 out per plan. This covers admin costs, trustee costs and business running costs as well as introducer’s fees currently at £500. When Safe Hands sells a plan themselves, there is no need to take out the £500 introducer’s fee.

          If you are able to re-read the blog, you will see that NONE of this is used for our advertising. We do however use some of it for brochures, application forms and printer ink. We limit our introducers to 6 application packs each until the sell a plan and then they can be replaced as this keeps needless extra costs to a minimum.

          ALL funeral directors which we work with are made very much aware of what they are likely to receive upon a plan death and, to date; they have no issue in taking them all day long.

          Let’s put things into a bit of perspective. Funeral Directors who sell funeral plans are paying large admin fees to the provider (from £30 with Safe Hands to £199 or more elsewhere) – I have MANY funeral directors selling the Safe Hands product who enrol sales folk to generate leads and close deals. This all comes at a cost as carries a bit of risk as with any employee situation. Staff turnover, sickness, NI Contributions, training, etc etc, so why wouldn’t a forward thinking Funeral Director be pleased that we can carry ALL of those hassles at a VERY SIMILIAR COST.

          In addition, we allow all of our FD sellers to withdraw upto £750 of the plan value, in advance, to aid with the above costs and, so far, I have NONE that don’t exercise that right showing that they are more than happy with the reduced value of a plan at the time of need.

          This is not a case of “over-charging” for a funeral service as £2945, £3195 and £3595 is in itself representative of good value. But let me ask you something, when was the last time you bought funeral flowers, a coffin, a headstone, a funeral uniform, a hearse, a ream of paper for the office (all related to the funeral service you provide) and asked how your provider of choice sleeps at night as they take money out of the sale price to pay for sales, marketing, staff and other business costs? I assume that you don’t advertise in the paper or local magazine, that you don’t sponsor a lawn bowls, golf or WI club?

          I can’t help but think that the pre-planning industry is being scapegoated against because we’re an easy target despite our business model not differing from no other commercial industry, including the Funeral Directors themselves. We are however, not dealing in reams of paper and it is very important for all planning companies to be empathetic with this. In many cases, we have the ability to provide the same funeral director, conducting the same funeral, on the same day, in the same vehicle as our other providers, just at hundreds of pounds less. Our funeral directors whom agree to conduct the funeral are offered the same amount of money, 24 hours after receipt of a death certificate. We have been told that, even though our prices are very low, the funeral directors receive the same (if not more) from Safe Hands than from any other provider and are more than happy to continue doing so.

          In closing, I am confident that we are close to returning the link between the funeral director and their client by releasing the Funeral Director’s Choice plan – Fully bespoke service and price with just a £30 admin fee – An email was sent around just yesterday detailing this.
          Feel free to contact me anytime


  4. Charles

    Cute picture: when you see the white of a dog’s eye they look so cartoonish.

    I’ll leave discussion of funeral plans to you pros. They are here to stay and there’s certainly scope for improvement. You’re onto something. I look forward to hearing about one that truly makes sense for the buyer.

  5. Charles

    This can-o-worms will open eventually. Those of us who know, or think we know will just have to hope that the people who bought them remember we (funeral directors) didn’t actually take their money.

  6. Charles

    The thought of Golden Charter being sued for substantial damages certainly brings me a warm and content glow.
    I’m also in the process of issuing legal proceedings against them under the Misrepresentation Act 1967. Not sure how Golden Charter think they can legally or ethically withhold and keep for themselves a substantial amount of a plan holders at need proceeds. I don’t think it says in the original contracts that the funeral director gets a substantially reduced amount unless they agree to sell Golden Charter Plans.
    Under the Misrepresentation Act this would void the contract between the parties and render Golden Charter liable to pay damages.
    Despite my business holding a number of these plans, I have blacklisted Golden Charter and won’t have anything whatsoever to do with them. It’s about time other funeral directors blacklisted this company and stood against their highly unethical practices. A clients money should be protected and the provider of the service should also enjoy equal protection, no matter who that provider may be. The whole funeral industry will fall into disrepute shortly over the pre-paid funeral scandal. By agreeing to sell these plans you actively collude with this unethical product and have a total disregard for the safety of your own clients money. Think what will happen to all these plans when you decide to sell your business and Golden Charter won’t provide the appropriate funds to the new owner.

    1. Charles

      We are also in contact with Which? Hilary, as their information is only representative of FPA members and therefore doesn’t offer a real comparion of the overall market.

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