A not so quiet revolution

Fran Hall 32 Comments
Fran Hall

Guest post by Lucy Coulbert, owner of Coulbert Family Funerals and The Individual Funeral Company.

Lucy’s been invited back to Westminster next week. And she’d like your thoughts about what she’s planning to say.

In the aftermath of the Support for the bereaved enquiry, I was not only contacted by a lot of media agencies, but I have also been invited to a meeting with Baroness Altmann next week along with a further meeting with the DWP.

It is my understanding that they will be talking about the issues that have arisen as part of this enquiry and are looking for recommendations on how to make claiming easier.

We have to be very clear that we are talking about funerals for people who are applying to the DWP for financial help. Our recommendations are outlined below.

The enquiry suggested there should be an online checker for people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral to see if they are eligible. I happen to think this is a good idea.

They also suggested a list of funeral directors should then appear based on postcode with their prices. While in practice this is a good idea, you will never get a like for like quote as funeral directors bundle their charges in very different ways. So one funeral director may charge for the removal fee and hearse fee in one lump sum and others itemise each cost. Therefore, if you don’t want a traditional hearse, you are still paying the same charge.

I think to appear on this website, a few things should happen. The funeral industry has got to agree on what a “simple” funeral should be and that every funeral director should give a price for those services only.

The second thing that should happen should be that funeral directors have the option of opting in or opting out at least twice a year. Therefore, if a national chain are particularly busy in December for example, there should be an easy way to take themselves off the DWP website so the family don’t have to wait weeks longer than they have to for a funeral.

The third point I will be making is that the payment system has simply got to be improved. My recommendation is that there has to be a facility for the funeral director to email their invoice and it should be paid within 14 days of receiving it. That way, we can book the day and the time of the funeral and the family doesn’t have to find the deposit.

The fourth is that there absolutely must be accountability. The report heard of families who after telling arrangers in national chains that they were applying to the DWP for help, were still presented with bills between £5,000 – £6,000.

If you have said you will undertake a “simple” funeral for £1800 for example and then present a bill of £5,000 I think it is fair that the company would be barred from advertising their services on a government website.

I have spoken to funeral directors up and down the country who agree that the following encompasses a “simple funeral” and doesn’t marginalise small funeral directors or home funeral directors.

Professional services

A coffin

Removal of the person who has died

Taking care of the person who has died

An estate car to take the person to the crematorium or cemetery on the day of the funeral

A service in the crematorium or a graveside service at the cemetery

The appropriate number of bearers on the day of the funeral

We also think that the minister’s fee (vicar/celebrant/humanist) should be a disbursement as not all families want someone to take the service and the family want to do this themselves.

We have said an estate car because not every funeral director owns their own, more traditional hearse and it seems to be a trend that traditional hearses aren’t in favour at the moment.

This is our definition of a “simple” funeral and is what we would be proposing to both the Baroness and DWP.

However, I would personally like to take things a step further in light of the growing problem with funeral poverty. I would like to propose a national minimum funeral cost for a simple funeral as outlined above.

While I am all for a free market, the general public haven’t any idea of what a funeral costs. If you are on a low income and not necessarily in receipt of benefits, then what do they do? Still get into debt because they have been presented with a £5,000 invoice?

By having a national minimum, again, funeral directors can opt in or opt out of undertaking funerals for xxx price but at least families would know who they can do to for a funeral that is affordable to them.

Again, there has to be accountability if a funeral director was on some sort database and still gives someone an over inflated bill.

By recommending a national minimum, I genuinely think the funeral industry has done all it possibly can to help the public. From then on, the onus is on them to do their research.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t charge a fair price for our bespoke services. I know I certainly do because of the level of work involved for a bespoke funeral. If funeral directors don’t make a profit, we won’t survive to help more families. However, we simply must offer the funeral we know is affordable to the family that is sat in front of us worrying about a bill for thousands.

There are amazing funeral directors around the country already doing this, but not all.

The Government are looking very closely at funeral directors pricing costs and we need to be proactive. If we aren’t, legislation will soon follow. In fact, I think it is inevitable that it will and it is closer than we think. If we don’t do something significant now, perhaps it will be taken out of our hands.

If Government are looking at legislation, pricing and regulation you can be assured that your future and your business is going to be in the hands of the NAFD and SAIF. It is my personal belief that if we don’t band together now, that these trade associations will possibly try to marginalise home funeral directors, those without their own hearses, funeral directors who don’t hold a Dip.Fd  for example, but are amazing funeral directors.

So a few points then before I go into these meetings.

Am I on the right track with the DWP proposals?

How do you feel about a national minimum price?

Does my interpretation of a “simple funeral” marry with yours?

I will fight as hard as I possibly can to make sure the DWP system is easier for the people it was designed to help and we are paid a fair price for the work we do. I will also fight like a tiger against any legislation or regulation that marginalises the smaller funeral director or home funeral director but I am just one voice.

I already have a few behind me but how many more troops can we rally? If the only way we continue to have a voice and a seat at the table of these meetings, I will happily start a new funeral directors association….in fact, this is already in the pipeline and hope to tell you more about it next week.

An army of voices is always better than a lone one and I can’t keep talking for and on behalf of funeral directors like me if we aren’t all in it together.

So in the words of Susan B. Anthony – “Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”

What do you think?


  1. Fran Hall

    A number of interesting points here.

    I agree that funeral poverty for many people, including those not able to apply for DWP is a big issue. And yes, why shouldn’t there be a national “recommended” price which should be able to get a funeral buyer something along the lines of a simple funeral as described. Individual companies can then trade as they wish and show there various prices with this as a benchmark/comparison. (Similar to the M.O.T. Test model)

    My fear with government promoting “cheap” funerals is that it opens the doors to low quality companies who still want to make a good profit of the low price so cut corners, or the ones who offer the basic but try and talk families into spending more (I came across a firm which appears to be cheap then charged a client £700 to upgrade from a shroud to a cardboard coffin!). Some of the “Alternative” funeral companies are far from clear and transparent in their pricing.

    Some companies would of course treat simple funeral clients like royalty and rightly so. Sadly others while paying lip service to the package would leave clients feeling like 3rd class citizens.

    Standards must be set. Where will the deceased be cared for? Will they be in a fridge? Will all efforts be made to facilitate viewing if required? Are proper premises and dignified staff available? 24 hour service mandatory? (I met a very upset family whose first choice of FD had put an answer phone on at night, not very good if you need your loved one to be removed at night/weekend) And hearse?! I’m not sure statistics support the claim that they are on their way out (yet) and not owning one is no reason in any way to suggest families shouldn’t have one! The home funeral style FD is fine when freely chosen, but ALL firms must be subject to scrutiny if undertaking to provide a government specified service.

    As for opt out? It’s still for clients to find the best service they can for the money. And what if everyone opts out in January?! “Sorry, can’t do a basic funeral this month but you are welcome to pay full price for a prompt service!” (Like when supermarkets don’t stock basic brands in the run up to Christmas!)

    Not another trade association PLEASE!! We are already too fragmented, with several otherwise worthy associations running on a shoe srting. (NAFD SAIF GFG NDC AGFD BIFD NFFD. Etc, plus all the comparison websites now trying to add confusion to matters and get a cut off our incomes which will only push prices yet higher. The funeral profession will achieve more by becoming more united. There are of course different strategies and priorities between some independents and the corporate world.

    More price clarity yes. Better service for both funeral directors and bereaved from DWP definitely. Anything which opens the way for shortcuts, or leaving families feeling they had to settle for second best. Never!

    The funeral companies which survive and thrive will increasingly become the ones delivering responsive, first class service (on all levels), for a fair price, regardless of the occupation of the owners great grandfather!

    1. Fran Hall

      Thank you for sticking your neck out, Lucy. It’s brave of you. And well done on your very successful lobbying — a real and valuable achievement.

      Much of what you say strikes me a very sensible, informed as it is by experience and by your commitment to helping people of limited means to organise a funeral. The importance of speeding up the application process, for example, is something we can all agree on. I also agree with much of what Mark says. I’d just like to add one or two other points to consider. I haven’t yet, I’m ashamed to say, read the select committee report and you’d be well within your rights to tell me that I really ought to have before reaching for my keyboard!

      Here’s something you can tell me. Has the select committee acknowledged that the present situation has been brought about by the policy of both main parties, when in power, to reduce the value of the funeral payment such that it is no longer designed to enable disadvantaged people to arrange a simple, dignified funeral but instead has been reclassified as a contribution to funeral expenses? If, by way of analogy, you steal half of someone’s rent money, it’s hardly fair to blame the victim’s predicament on the rapacity of landlords.

      Second, your recipe for a simple funeral is, I think, problematic in some areas. First, it is a particular type of funeral – what I call a public, ceremonial funeral with the person who has died in attendance. Some (eg direct cremationists, diy-ers) might describe this as a denial of choice; others, who feel it necessary to visit the person who has died in the chapel of rest, a denial of an essential service. The use of an estate car instead of a hearse might be perceived to be stigmatising, the more so by the very demographic you want to help. At the same time, I recognise that a funeral payment designed to fund the services of a FD up to the value of £x would need to be informed by some sort of costings. Tricky.

      Whatever formula is used, is it your impression that the govt intends to restore the funeral payment to its original purpose? If, instead, it expects funeral directors to take a hit for helping the poor, then I question why funeral directors should feel morally bound to support any national minimum price if there is sufficient margin to recompense them adequately, or if they are compelled to resort to subsidising the cost of a DWP funeral by passing on some of the pain to their ‘bespoke’ clients without their knowledge or consent. One thing the govt clearly doesn’t want to do is drive up the numbers of people opting for a public health funeral, but I sometimes wonder if this is not exactly what it deserves.

      Mark, the GFG is not a professional association it is a consumer organisation. As is the NDC. Very different beasts. You missed off the HFN – Home Funeral Network. As for the price comparison websites, their existence is largely down to funeral directors’ refusal to post their prices online. To those who haven’t, GET EM UP!!

  2. Fran Hall

    Some really interesting points and I will try to address all of them.

    Charles – your first point. The committee didn’t have to define anything because it was an enquiry. It is for the DWP to answer and it is absolutely something I will be putting to Baroness Altmann on Thursday along with Sheena Mustard who is the head of legislation for the DWP on 6th May.
    I think it is terribly important to get an answer to this question from one of them.

    I totally understand what you mean in your second point. I am currently working with a family who are applying to the DWP but want a direct cremation service. When we talk about funerals where the costs are being met by the DWP, what ever a family wants (within reason) I personally always try to accommodate.
    I think it is important that we assume that the majority of people this payment was designed to help would want a more “traditional” funeral where the service is attended. This is helpful to work out costs as this more traditional type of funeral is likely to cost more.
    For those arranging the funeral themselves or want a direct cremation service, the costs will obviously be reduced which would then mean a reduced invoice being sent to the DWP.
    I also understand your comments on the use of hearses instead of estate cars but I am desperately trying to find a way to keep both sides happy by way of costs and not marginalise small funeral directors who don’t have access to their own and hire them in.

    When it comes to seeing their loved one, I find it hard to believe a funeral director would deny this service unless they thought it was in the families best interests not to see them, but again, this is another way of keeping costs down. Not just for the family but for the DWP and funeral directors. If the person has passed away in a hospital, families always have the option of seeing them there.

    After the evidence session I gave, I am under the impression that it is up to the DWP to solve the problem of cost and speed at which any payments are paid.
    It is also up to the DWP to decide if it is a “contribution” or to provide the full cost for a simple funeral. Until I have spoken with them, I don’t know what the future holds in that respect.
    Maybe it really will come to the point where the DWP won’t put the payments up and funeral director’s can’t afford to undertake these funerals. I certainly wouldn’t put up the price of my bespoke service in order to fund them because it wouldn’t be fair or ethical for those families using my bespoke service.
    Therefore, we may see a rise in NHS or Environmental Health funerals. However, I don’t think this would be helpful to the families who really want to arrange the funeral but just don’t have the funds but it also means that national chain funeral directors will be undertaking these funerals too.
    NHS and Environmental Health funerals get put out to tender or they simply renew the contract with the funeral director that already undertake them.

    Mark – I do agree with your comments regarding low quality companies and pricing. I too come across people who have offered a funeral at a set price and before the family leaves, they find the cost has gone up considerably.

    I also agree that regardless of what type of funeral a family wanted, they are always treated like Royalty. Many funeral directors don’t mind if you are buying a £40 ashes casket or a £10,000 coffin, everyone is treated the same.
    I also know there are funeral directors who leave clients feeling like they aren’t even worth talking to if they are applying to the DWP or want a direct cremation service.
    Surely these funeral directors would get found out and wouldn’t last long?

    All firms must be subject to scrutiny and standards. I again agree with all of your points about what those standards should be. However, not everyone has mortuary facilities. I am in the process of having a more traditional mortuary built at my premises but I have used something similar to the flexmort system and it has worked like an absolute dream. I have been able to care for people in a very dignified manner.
    Also, not all funeral directors have their own premises or work from home and hire facilities. Families know this when they visit these types of funeral directors. Should they be excluded because they don’t have “proper premises?”

    My statistics for the estate car versus hearse are completely accurate. When arranging the funeral, I always ask the client “What type of car would you like to take your wife/husband/mother/father/child to the crematorium/cemetery in? We can provide a more traditional hearse, we can use our Land Rover Discovery or we can hire almost any other type of vehicle you can think of.”
    I am not suggesting that just because I don’t own my own is no reason to have one. My reasoning behind it is to keep costs as low as possible for all three sides and because we have got to come up with what a “simple” service includes.

    I concede maybe an opt in our out service isn’t ideal. Perhaps if you opt in then you should undertake that funeral. If at any point it isn’t something a company feels they can continue to undertake, then you opt out.
    I don’t know what the answer is here. I am just trying to find a way that families who are applying to the DWP get a funeral service without being whalloped with a £5,000 bill at the end of it.

    Completely take your comments on board about another association, but what have the NAFD, SAIF or BIFD done to address the funeral poverty issue? Have they even discussed what a “simple funeral” should be with their members? Have they tried to negotiate a less expensive rate with the ICCM for early morning or late afternoon times at crematoriums so funeral directors can lower the cost of DWP cremations?
    None of them, as far as I can see, have done anything. SAIF and BIFD didn’t even take part in this enquiry as far as I know.
    There are loads of associations who want money of us and I can’t see where my membership fee would go.
    We would all be so much more powerful if all of the associations worked together, but I can’t see that happening any time soon, however, I would be prepared to give it a bash.

    I’m not saying I have all the answers, but at least I am trying to find them. No one else has been prepared to stick their neck out and really try and help bridge the gap between funeral directors, DWP and ultimately, the families who need the most help and support.
    There are a band of FDs that are with me and that will be helpful but we need more.

    I’m not going to be able to have everyone agree on everything but the one thing I am sure we can all agree on is that the families are always first. Anything we can do to help them and push things forward with Government, surely we should be trying to do it?
    Of course we have to look after our own interests and companies otherwise we won’t be here to help more people next year but so far I don’t believe I have heard any association speak not only on behalf of it’s members, but on behalf of the people that are at their most vulnerable.
    I haven’t heard an explanation as to why members of these associations are giving families bills of £5,000 + after they have told the arranger they are applying to the DWP.
    Everyone is out for number one…surely it’s about time we try to see it from all sides and try to come up with a constructive plan?

    Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I am so far out on a limb that nothing will work, but at least I would have tried to get a fair deal for all involved. Funeral directors that need an assurance of how much they will be paid for their “simple service,” DWP knowing what is affordable for us and what the family can expect, and hopefully taking away a little bit of that worry for the family.

    1. Fran Hall

      Lucy, the NAFD dropped its simple funeral because there was no uniformity of practice and because, if price lists properly itemise properly, clients incline to select the options that suit them. I think there’s a lot to be said for a cafeteria approach and I wonder about the feasibility of obtaining consensus on the elements of a simple funeral. Remember, the old simple funeral threw up all sorts of anomalies. I remember the man who rang me in fury because he’d surveyed the elements of a simple funeral at an undertaker and decided that it was exactly the funeral he wanted – plus an extra limousine. So he asked what an extra lim would cost only to be told that this would make it a bespoke funeral at a cost far, far higher than made any sense at all. Identifying a benchmark price for an ordinary funeral is a very tricky matter, but rather than throw my hands up I am inclined to think that AW Lymn probably have it right with their ‘recipe’ – http://www.lymn.co.uk/funerals/funeral-costs It’s worth noting that Lymn’s make no charge for their simple cardboard coffin – but cardboard would be a no-no for the vast majority of DWP funerals. Sorry if that all reads like a muddle!

      On the day we learned that the bill for Prince’s funeral – cremation, small, private gathering – was £1142, we are reminded that the cost of cremation in the UK could be halved at least. I hope you will be making this case. Had Mr Princes’s personal representatives opted for direct cremation in Minneapolis at the cheapest provider, they would have faced a bill for just
      £518. Yes, five one eight. As it was, they went for, so far as I can see, the most expensive. Also worth noting, the cremation charge alone at an equally expensive establishment is £166. The price we pay over here is absurd and exorbitant, with the private operators charging an ave of 13% more than local authorities.

      In the context of this government’s austerity programme, with its bracing policies designed to compel people on benefits to take responsibility for themselves and shed their dependency on the state, I am not hopeful that the funeral payment will be restored to its original status, as brought in, ironically, by the Tories. The peculiarity of funeral poverty is that those who suffer are not those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make provision for their funerals (they’re dead), but, instead, their nearest and dearest who feel honour bound to give them a good sendoff. The govt cannot expect people to save up for the funerals of other people, but perhaps it is calculating that the experience of funding a sendoff for someone else will impel them to save up for their own so that no one else will have to suffer what they had to go through, and the problem of funeral poverty will finally be much mitigated, leaving only the most disadvantaged to need a DWP payment, ie, those acting on behalf of those the people who had not the wherewithal to stash anything away. Whether or not the govt is engaged in any such awareness raising the hard way is of course open to question. My guess is they just wish the whole problem would go away.

      I do deplore the way funeral poverty is reflexively ascribed to systemic exploitation of the bereaved by funeral directors. Speaking as one who wouldn’t do your job for all the money on Earth, I think you all deserve a decent standard of living!

      1. Fran Hall

        I have been following this conversation keenly and such good points have been so eloquently made that I almost hesitate to interrupt and go off at a bit of a tangent.

        Lucy, I wish you every success but I do fear that there are so many complexities that the powers that be will come up with some sort of fudge. Meanwhile I think that Charles touches on a very real problem – that of ‘awareness raising’. Those of us of a certain age will remember the sight of the Man from the Pru, or the Wesleyan & General, or whoever, walking up front garden paths to collect 4 shillings and ninepence a fortnight; no, I’m not suggesting that insurance is the answer, just that there is now a section of the population that seems to have lost, or perhaps never had, that prudence.

        Having rudely interrupted I must now go back to the article I’m writing about funeral crowdfunding…

        1. Fran Hall

          Michael, when you’ve written your article on crowdfunding, please will you post it here?

          Also, I agree that private insurance isn’t the answer, but — call me naïve — here’s some maths:

          To round things down to order-of-magnitude terms rather than concrete predictions, let’s say people work for 40 years of their life on average, and a funeral is very roughly £4000 at today’s prices. That’s £100 for each working year, or £2 per week. How feasible would it be to add £2 a week to National Insurance contributions to provide an index-linked amount for each citizen’s family to spend on their funeral?

          Problem solved?

          1. Fran Hall

            Jonathan, your NIC suggestion has a certain elegance. It’s worth remembering that when the NHS was set up its stated aim was to provide support ‘from the cradle to the grave’. It seems to me that this has been interpreted over the years to mean from the pre-natal clinic to the mortuary. I wonder what Jeremy Hunt would make of a campaign to Bring Back the Grave? Or Why No Grave?

            Oh, and sorry, the crowdfunding piece was commissioned elsewhere.

        2. Fran Hall

          Hi Michael

          When you have finished your crowndfunding piece, would you be able to provide a link to it? I’d be interested in giving it a read


    2. Fran Hall

      Lucy, perhaps the last suggestion you want, but what about joining SAIF and joining their Executive Committee as they may be lacking representation from people with your outlook ?

      I think the quality / standard of services needs to be agreed. It is then up to those who want to trade as funerals directors to provide these services to the required standard whether directly or through sub contract (yes I have done a start up on limited resources). It is entirely wrong to set the standard based on what some funeral directors are limited to. As with a hearse, if a family wish to use some of the available funds to pay for a hearse, then fine. If not and they save money by not having a hearse this is between them and the appointed funeral director. Same with inclusion of flowers, caskets, press notices etc.

      We also need to bear in mind that some people expect far too much from a basic service, or want a cheap funeral where the funeral director cuts margins beyond reason, then the client spends hundreds, if not thousands on flowers and catering (bar bill), presumably this money being gathered from people willing to pay for these things, but not willing to contribute to funeral directors wages, or the cremation fee. If we could remove financial risk from the equation, things would be so much easier for funeral directors.

      Clearly a vast and complicated subject.

  3. Fran Hall

    “The use of an estate car instead of a hearse might be perceived to be stigmatising, the more so by the very demographic you want to help…” I’m just chucking in a general observation here, by way of a break from ploughing through the DWP report, but it strikes me as an important aspect of the discussion…

    I think your comment above, Charles, highlights the epicentre of the problem of costs. It is precisely such perceptions of what is right, dignified, fitting, required etc, that drive up funeral costs and tensions beyond those of a basic, human grieving ritual — which people would naturally organize for themselves, given the complete absence of an invented industry to sell it to them, and which would resemble their products in no way whatsoever.

    I can certainly say the most meaningful and rewarding funerals I’ve helped organize have involved heaving the dead person from the back of my or someone’s estate car, and everyone mucking in to get the thing onto trestles or a catafalque, somehow, with the sweat of their brows contributing to the feeling of offering a gift to the dead person. It’s the absence of my overheads that contributes to not only the affordability of these very personal events, but also their effectiveness as a place from which to embark on the long journey of grieving.

    I’m passionate about changing the perception of funerals from ‘more is more respectful’ to ‘less is more useful’, and to the idea that a funeral can be more rewarding to make than to buy; and while this may be a forlorn ambition for a long time, nevertheless I believe it desperately needs stating, especially to a committee trying to get its head around the reasons why our culture condemns its weakest and most vulnnerable to quite unnecessary distress and debt around what can, with support and understanding, be a family event to look back on with pride — not least for having accomplished it within a restricted budget.

    Good for you for taking up the baton, Lucy, and I hope I can come back with something for you before… when is it exactly? Thursday? xJ

    1. Fran Hall

      Completely agree, Jonathan. Message to all undertakers: ‘Seek not to know what you can do for your ‘families’ but what they can do for themselves.’ Changing perceptions is the hard part. Respectful remains very much the funeral of choice for those (on the whole) least able to pay for a funeral, while useful tends to be favoured by those who could easily afford respectful.

    2. Fran Hall

      Really interesting points Jonathan. Some of the most beautiful funerals I have ever undertaken have been the most simple and where the families have been more involved in different aspects.

      Charles, I see what you mean about the “menu” idea. It is something that many funeral directors have opted for. Just the fact that funeral directors are actively putting their prices online is a huge step forward within the funeral industry.
      The NAFD “simple funeral” was also a sticky subject. Funeral directors bundle their charges in so many different ways that it is extremely difficult to get a like for like quote and believe me, I have tried! If I can’t understand how it all works, then how do the public understand it?

      Cremation charges is something I will certainly be bringing up. The ICCM will be at this round table meeting at the DWP in May so would like to know, like you, how it all gets worked out.
      In Oxford, my two local crematoriums are owned privately. One by Memoria and the other by Dignity. I’m sure you can guess which one is more expensive.

      While I completely agree that funeral directors deserve a good standard of living, lets face it, we chose to do a job most wouldn’t be able to cope with on a daily basis, I do think there is something terribly immoral about a family being handed a £5,000-£6,000 invoice after they have told the arranger they are applying to the DWP.

      There are amazing funeral directors up and down the country doing amazing things to really help people. I guess my point is that there should be accountability for those few who are genuinely taking advantage of those who are terribly vulnerable.

      Mark – I completely agree that standards and expectations need to be laid out clearly.
      I’ve also been in the position where I have reduced my rate to help a family only to have flowers delivered to me on the day of the funeral that amount to hundreds.
      If we manage expectations and make it completely clear and transparent what the service entails, then this can only be a good thing.

      As for SAIF…..not my preferred option, but I understand what you are saying. Mind you, there is no guarantee they will have me!

  4. Fran Hall

    A quickie here before it leaves my brain:

    “We agree with the principle that individuals should look to make financial provision for their own funeral, wherever this is at all possible. Where this has not happened it is right that family or friends should make provision. The state should be the last resort.” (From the DWP report on funeral poverty).

    But families themselves may not agree with this principle (I, for one, do not necessarily), nor may they be aware of the other last resort of handing over the dead person’s funeral to the Council. It should also be pointed out on the [funeral payment fund] application form that, by having accepted responsibility for the funeral arrangements, the individual has established the principle that one of the ‘normally expected’ people should pay for it, be it that person or another. In other words, if you agree to arrange a funeral you may be putting members of your dead person’s family, or his/her friends, under an expectation to pay the bill (or be obliged to refuse) if you can’t.

  5. Fran Hall

    (see Michael Jarvis’ comment, Tuesday 26th April 2016 at 4:03 pm)

    “… the NHS was set up its stated aim was to provide support ‘from the cradle to the grave’. It seems to me that this has been interpreted over the years to mean from the pre-natal clinic to the mortuary.”

    But it seems to me to stop just short of the mortuary, and therein lies the nub of the problem… the only morturaries available are the ones attached to a commercial enterprise with a vested interest in selling funerals. That’s something that urgently needs addressing.

  6. Fran Hall

    How delighted I am, Jonathan, to see someone back the idea of adding funeral expenses to NI. Last time I suggested it lots of people said nooooo and sounded a bit embarrassed for me. Another way would be for the govt to award a sum to people when they are 18 and get them to pay it back like a student loan. Those above a certain income level would pay it all back, those on the lowest incomes wouldn’t, but everyone would still get the money — well, their personal rep would. This would completely shaft the pre-paid funeral pedlars [cheers] even the GFG’s excellent plan [boos], but all in a good cause.

    Talking of graves, there was, of course, back in the day when the country was a bit pinker and kinder and Hayek had never been heard of, the death grant. I think I got 25 quid when I buried my mum. It had declined in value, somewhat over the years.

    Michael, you touch on something I term funeral fecklessness, which funeral poverty campaigners ought to be more rigorous in separating from the sort of poverty which makes it impossible for someone to put anything aside. Yes, yes, where do you draw the line? I recall the man who, after a lifetime of high living and ne’er-do-welling, was declared terminally ill and managed to save up for his funeral over 18 months, all funded from his DLA. And I recall the lad who had just moved into a flat with his pregnant girlfriend when his alcoholic dad died. He was at his wits’ end. This business of funeral poverty, peculiarly, visits the sins of fathers and mothers on their children.

    Lucy, I wonder if you can explain why some FDs present £5K bills to DWP-ers when it can only leave them (the FDs) with a lot of bad debt? Or is it that poor people in this predicament somehow find the money from the worst sorts of lender?

    Mark, I don’t see how standards can be binding unless enforced through legislation. A self-regulated industry has no means of keeping the cowboys out. Until the govt regulates, consumer scrutiny is all we have. And cowboys. As for Saif, is the close relationship with Golden Charter really such a good idea?

    Lucy again. The labourer is worthy of his/her hire. Enough of this martyr-to-my-vocation stuff, you are worth £75 grand a year. If you guys went on strike people would be throwing money at you. I deplore the way so many of the best and nicest FDs beggar themselves to help the poor and needy. Doctors, teachers, etc don’t get paid less for dealing with the disadvantaged.

    1. Fran Hall

      Amongst most FD’s terms and conditions (including mine) is a clause that states that if a funeral account is not paid within 60 days for example and after the usual recorded delivery letters, then the account will be passed to a debt collector.
      Once the account has been effectively bought by the debt collector, then the FD would get their account paid in full within 7 days.
      So if I was an immoral cowboy, I could get a family to spend £5,000 on a funeral. I wait 60 days and contact the debt collector who would then pay me.
      No debt on my books and now some family will have debt collectors knocking on their door.

      The other alternative is to go to doorstop lenders and gather the money for a funeral. With Wonga currently charging 1509% APR, Sunny at 757%, QuickQuid at 1270% and Provident at 1068%, it is very easy for families to get into the most terrible debt.
      They would likely have to take out multiple loans in order to just get the deposit together on a £5,000 bill and then the likelihood the remainder would get bought by an FD.
      Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think this is their only option.

      As for earning £75k a year….I may be worth it, but it doesn’t make it right. I can promise you now, if I ever earn that amount of money a year, I would personally pay for some funerals for people in real, genuine need.

  7. Fran Hall

    Lucy, I don’t want to hijack the overall discussion on the DWP proposals but I was reading this and thought I’d add some comments on online quoting, prices and transparency for customers. In particular, whether it is (ever) possible to get like for like quotes for funeral director services.

    Our recently launched site (www.funeralbooker.com) gets very close in my opinion. Customers quickly and simply ‘build’ the funeral they want and then see like for like real prices from funeral directors. They then choose on cost, service, reviews, location, affiliation (even GFG accreditation) and get in touch with the right funeral director for them.

    Importantly, what the customer sees is an accurate ‘total’ cost including professional fees, coffins, urns, flowers and limousines as well as the cremation/burial fee, minister’s fees and medical certificates etc. We do not list identikit packages but instead ask every funeral director to submit a full complement of their prices so we can build a ‘bespoke’ price for each customer. The beauty of this is that ‘bespoke’ can be simple or extravagant depending on taste and requirements. It also means there are no nasty and unexpected £1,000 price hikes!

    Anyway, I just thought I would make sure you had seen us and knew what we were doing. I’d like to think we go someway to providing part of the solution the enquiry were looking for and would love to hear your thoughts.

    Of course, if you think we can be helpful in any other way as well, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

    James Dunn, Founder

    P.s. I’m very happy to list Mark Shaw as one of our members.
    P.p.s. I’d also love to see the crowdfunding article when available, please. We will be building out the site in this area in the next few months, hopefully.

  8. Fran Hall

    Lucy, I find myself on a rather different tack from yours, but as far as your questions go:

    Yes, I think you’re broadly on the right track with DWP proposals, though defining a universal, simple funeral is problematic because of its inherently prescriptive nature, and its disregard of individual firms’ styles — rather like defining like-for-like meals at different restaurants. National minimum price is an idea, but needing universal agreement from funeral directors about it, with their widely different pricing structures and overheads, would limit those willing to go on the register. Good luck with these, but expect resistance from the industry and try and think of alternative ways around the pricing problem without resorting to recommending licensing.

    A couple of points I’d like to see also discussed are below….

    …From the DWP report:
    ‘Bereaved people have compared funeral arrangements to ‘distress purchases’, when normal market behaviours such as shopping around for the best price are absent, leading to increased costs.’

    When someone dies, we are effectively obliged to relinquish custody of the body into the care of a commercial organisation, because only these have a mortuary (a facility to keep a dead body hygienically). But you can’t expect someone who needs to sell funerals to be indifferent to your potential custom, and so both you and the funeral director are immediately under your respective pressures by the very nature of the situation. I certainly couldn’t afford a funeral director’s full service, but at least I know what most people do not: that the only thing you absolutely need a funeral director for is a fridge. So I’m suggesting that…

    Recommend that, whenever possible, hospitals routinely offer relatives mortuary space until the funeral (even if it’s for a reasonable fee), with visiting facilities, to give them time to absorb the fact of death and to research their funeral opportunities without the stress of having to move the body.
    (This would of course put pressure on hospital mortuary space, but the calming effect on likely spending has the potential to affect the numbers applying for SFF Payment.) Also,

    Recommend that the NDC, GFG, Home Funeral Network and others be conspicuously noted in any information literature as stakeholders with equal status to that of funeral directors.
    There is an assumption underlying the report that funeral directors are the natural first choice. But if there’s any question of licensing them, then less formal, more economical provision may be compromised, which would be a retrograde step in the interests of funeral poverty.

    So, I for one would join an association if it represents the interests not of funeral providers so much as funeral consumers — a sort of People’s Funeral Association, with transparency and accountability to the public.

    Good luck Lucy, and thanks for doing this.

    1. Fran Hall

      Again, all really good points and I will certainly try to bring them up tomorrow.
      I do think that any funeral professional will have to be licenced at some point in the near future. That would include home funeral directors for example.

      The only thing that I am not sure of is a hospital mortuary keeping people for an indefinite amount of time in order for people to make a decision.
      My Mother is a mortuary manager in Surrey and the pressures put upon her facility is increasing.
      The same with my local hospital in Oxford. There just isn’t the space to keep people. My local hospital still have their temporary fridges in place that they get in over the Christmas period from two years ago.
      In fact, just this morning I had a call from them to see if I had anyone with them at the moment as they are full.

      There are an increasing number of hospitals now charging a daily rate of £5.00 if you have a signed hospital removal form and the cremation paperwork is ready to be collected.

      While I think it is really important the families have the time to make an informed decision, I do think it would be a strain on the NHS facilities that are almost already at breaking point.

      However, I do like the suggestion of a public mortuary where instead of providing the whole service, there is a space a family can effectively rent per day so they undertake the funeral themselves or take the time they need to make a more informed choice.

      1. Fran Hall

        £5 a day is a bloody good rate — but obviously not intended to be taken advantage of!

        I take your point about hospital mortuary space, but we’re in an emergency situation. People are going into serious debt simply because the State considers its responsibility for public health provision, free at point of delivery, stops short of what is in fact its own legal requirement to dispose of a body hygienically, set out on public health grounds. Quoting shortage of mortuary space, valid as it is in practice, is no good answer to the underlying issue; namely, turning over responsibility for this requirement to the private sector who are entitled to take advantage of bereaved people’s compromised economic judgement.

  9. Fran Hall

    Just to say jolly good luck to you tomorrow Lucy when you meet Baroness Altmann – hopefully the comments on your post have encouraged you that you’re not a lone voice speaking up for bereaved families – we’re all behind you and glad that someone has stepped up to take the baton, no matter differences of opinion on details.
    You go girl!

  10. Fran Hall

    Last word from me, which is to heartily endorse what Jonathan said: licensing funeral directors would grievously restrict consumer choice and, if the US is anything to go by, send funeral costs rocketing. Nothing must interfere with a person’s right to care for their own in death.

      1. Fran Hall

        Nice. But I foresee a political thicket, internal strife, grandstanding… Which is not to say that such a debate would not attract the attention of the public and elicit their views. Yes, it would be good to see consumers drawn into a debate about how they want their funerals businesses to be ordered.

  11. Fran Hall

    Tim Morris has asked me to post this comment for him as his computer is currently refusing to let him make observations on the blog:

    ‘Would an opt in opt out of a DWP website during busy periods ‘so that their clients don’t have to wait’ push those of lesser means to the back of the queue? We’ve seen such queue jumping in respect of health care.
    Would this create a two tier system reminiscent of Victorian inequality? I nearly used the P word!
    Perhaps it should be either your in or you’re out with no option to opt back in when death rate stabilises and funerals that don’t carry a bad debt risk become more scarce??’


    1. Fran Hall

      That was one of the points I made yesterday. I think it is wrong to impose funerals on companies that can’t undertake work on behalf of the DWP for a limited amount of money.
      Therefore we should be able to opt in to the system and not be forced. Should someone decide to opt out, there should be a time limit on when they would be able to opt back in….say 12-24 months after opting out.

      The meeting went pretty well yesterday and felt Baroness Altmann is really dedicated to finding a solution and making everything easier for the people who need the financial help but also helping funeral directors.
      It is going to be the case that we are never going to please all funeral directors in terms of what the DWP will define as a “Simple Funeral” and they will never please everyone when it comes to prices for that service. By opting in or opting out, the public will know where they stand.

      It is also my understanding that the DWP are looking into loans to pay for funeral services too.
      So the DWP will pay for a simple funeral and if you want anything above or beyond that, there is a re-payable loan you may be able to get too.

      I think we are moving in the right direction and what is encouraging is that she apologised for the state of the system and they know they have to do better.

  12. Fran Hall

    Apologies for sticking my oar in so late – I have been on a much needed holiday. Thank you, it was lovely.

    I cannot see any government fixing a minimum price and understand Charles’ points re regulation (terrible anti-choice idea) nor service, and stigmatising the poor is exactly what happened in the past. Decades ago, when I used to offer simple funerals, clients were terrified of a cloth covered coffin appearing outside their home because they associated them with ‘pauper’s funerals’.

    I never quite get this, the richest usually opt for the most basic funeral services. They know it doesn’t matter how impressive a funeral looks to the outside world. If I drive a new Range Rover, and my neighbour drives a ten year old Kia, it’s fairly obvious that I’m probably better off? If one of our families without funds wants an ambulance or estate car, purely for cost reasons, almost always we use a hearse anyway. This is because it’s easier to lift a coffin at the crematorium from a hearse than a lower estate deck! My choice, elf n saftey or I’m a soft touch? Probably a bit of both. The Simple funeral spec is at first glance, a great idea for true comparison – all we FD’s whine about comparing apples with pears, but currently many funeral director’s would then refuse things like use of Chapel of Rest, or even the funeral travelling via a residential address. To be fair, these things ARE full-service funeral items, they take us a lot longer to do, use a lot more staff time and frankly, time IS always money.

    I believe as ever, the real issue here is families faced with arranging a funeral do not shop-around nor inform themselves in the way they should. Despite much effort, too many people just use ‘the nearest’ FD, and that means they sometimes pay way over the odds.

    If you force me to predict the future, (OK then) I see the DWP offering loans, to people already facing a reduction in income. The big chains will carry on exactly as they do now, (presenting the poor with huge bills regardless of what they’re told) and the public will remain largely ignorant of the huge variation in charges. I am a cynic, but I travel/commute with several people who have known me for years. In past years several have told me they arranged funerals for relatives and paid 5-6,000 for a simple sounding cremation. If even the people who know funeral directors pay too much, then what hope is there?

    Actually, that all soubds too cynical, so here goes, why cant each DWP office agree the spec for a simple funeral, ask their local FD’s how much they charge for this and present this list to anyone applying for help?

    1. Fran Hall

      That is something that was discussed. That the DWP pay for a “simple” funeral and then there would be access to a repayable loan should a family want more.
      While this is good in theory and will stop people going to places like Wonga, will it then mean that those funeral directors who see it as purely business, then hike up their prices so all families applying to the DWP would then have to apply for this loan?

      You are also absolutely right that the majority of my clients who have opted for my direct cremation service or a simple funeral, are often the people who don’t have to worry about paying the bill.

      I use a Land Rover Discovery as our estate car. Given the amount of natural burials I undertake and the ability to make it lower or higher to help the family bearers, it was a perfect choice….much the same as you and your hearse.

      There are the really good guys who are doing everything they can and those that are ripping people off.
      For everything that the good guys do and will continue to do, it is about public education.

      I like you am far too cynical and think the chain rattlers will do nothing bar turn up to Westminster meetings, bleat loudly about their members yet can’t comment on anything because they speak on behalf of their members (I kid you not!) and hope the dust settles without having to do anything meaningful.

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