Low Cost Funeral Director of the Year

Fran Hall 10 Comments
Fran Hall


Lucy Coulbert of Coulbert Family Funerals

Having geared her business specifically to help families of limited means arrange dignified and respectful funerals, Lucy was the only funeral director in England and Wales to give evidence to the 2016 DWP Bereavement Benefits Enquiry.

Lucy gives a 100% customer-focused service, unconstrained by the traditions of funeral service. In an industry which sets great store by conformity and mystique, Lucy is somewhat of a maverick. She does what she believes to be right and pays no heed to gainsayers.

She is at the forefront of a new, open way of doing things and her practice is a beacon to anyone contemplating establishing their own funeral business. She has been brave and outspoken and richly deserves this recognition.

Lucy has committed herself to supporting people of limited means, helping them create an affordable funeral. Funeral poverty has become a major issue in these times of austerity. Lucy created Coulbert Family Funerals to exclusively help people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral.

In the furtherance of the cause of combatting funeral poverty, Lucy gave evidence the Bereavement Benefits enquiry conducted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) this year giving both oral and written evidence about the causes of, and solutions to, funeral poverty with Baroness Altmann and the DWP. She was the only person asked to attend all three meetings in the capacity of a funeral director.

Lucy is highly responsive to what her clients ask for. She publishes all her prices online, thereby achieving a transparency that all funeral directors would do well to emulate.

Lucy said: “I help people arrange the funeral they want in the way they want, and I do so in the most ethical way I can. I listen to what people want and don’t try to push them into having things they don’t want or need.”


Runner Up in this Category: Funerals on a Budget


  1. Fran Hall

    Thanks David. It’s a shame that I felt there was a need to start this company in the first place.
    Honestly, I am hoping that rather the need for it increase, that in a few years time I can close it down because it isn’t needed any more.
    By talking directly and honestly with MP’s and SMP’s, that they finally understand what funeral poverty means and therefore increasing the fees they pay out and changing the length of time it takes to pay along with funeral directors charging a reasonable amount for it to make it worth their while arranging, I hope that day will come sooner.

    The problem is, I can’t see more funeral director’s going in this direction or setting up an independent company like I have done. There is virtually zero monetary reward for doing so. The only people who could really do this would be the large national chains who in my opinion, are a big part of the problem of driving prices up to an unaffordable level to an increasing number of people.

    The unwillingness of the funeral associations to actually write down and name each element of a “simple” funeral really isn’t helping. They have lobbied Government over the DWP payment and to have that increased. However, their reluctance to actually decide what a “simple” funeral should be and put a price on it so their members can offer this type of funeral is exactly what has done the funeral industry no favours what so ever and just makes the media portray us as a whole as money grabbers.
    It doesn’t matter that cemetery and cremation costs make up a huge part of the invoice. It always reflects back to us.

    If as a body of funeral professionals (regardless of if we are members of the trade associations) we can all band together and say “this is what a ‘simple’ funeral is and this is what it would cost,” then the Governments would then be paying more attention and perhaps actually do something about it in a quicker time frame.
    Until that happens, nothing will change and all it does is effect our societies most vulnerable people.

    1. Fran Hall

      I agree a specification should be agreed by the grave trade.

      Years ago, in my view the then DHSS system was too open to abuse. All a family had to do was nominate the family member who lived on any kind of benefit to arrange the funeral and sign the paperwork. In my area, sometimes this meant not just a hearse and limousine, flowers etc, but a new grave for two at often (high) national chain high cost. The family could go anywhere for a funeral and effectively the state would pay and was paying for a future occupant – even if that occupant was a millionaire.

      My solution (at the time) was for each local DWP office to issue a spec for a funeral to all local funeral directors. The lowest price would then become the local nominated FD for families applying for help. I know it removes choice, but if you’re genuinely in need, you’d accept it. I don’t really see why that system or a version of it couldn’t work now?

      At present, I have suggested several times to those in need that they ‘walk away’ rather than take on a commitment to pay for a funeral that they simply cannot afford. Of course that is if I feel we just can’t help, (like many FD’s we have conducted funerals without any payment, at all! ) As you will know, the hospital or local authority will eventually arrange a public health funeral – and the family can still attend. It does remove choice, but what alternative do they have if they are impoverished?

      1. Fran Hall

        That is the thing David….choice. I actually attended a meeting in Scotland last week on funeral poverty and choice is the word that kept being used over and over again along with “it isn’t for the funeral industry to define what a simple funeral is.”

        Even the current system is open to abuse and this is why I am very clear about what I will and will not do through Coulbert Family Funerals.
        However, I also don’t think the system goes far enough in that there are couples working for minimum wage on a zero hours contract that just don’t have the money to arrange a funeral but the DWP won’t help people in that situation.
        Like others, I often tell them they have the choice to get into debt but I would recommend they let the NHS or local authority pay for it on their behalf.
        The problem then comes with time. Often they have to wait months for the funeral.

        Price is a huge factor and the reason so many FDs can’t agree on what the price should be is down to regional variations.
        The local DWP office should be able to help set the price for a “simple funeral” funded by the DWP but I think it would just get treated as yet another “contract” that would be put out to tender.

        There are so many problems with the current DWP situation that it is going to take a lot of different elements to fix the whole system.

    1. Fran Hall

      I started Coulbert Family Funerals for two reasons, to run it as a not for profit company and to be crystal clear on what I was prepared and what I wasn’t prepared to do.

      We guarantee that should a family use us, if the DWP pay out the maximum award of £700 “towards other costs,” then they will never have an additional bill to pay.

      By the time I have hired a hearse, bearers, paid for a coffin, carried out the removal of the person who has died and kept them with us (cost price to me), I am left with £15 for my arrangement fee that doesn’t even cover the cost of the company mobile phone contract for a month.

      My other company donates other services like equipment and services that is never repaid.

      I really just wanted everything to be transparent. It was easier to have a separate website where I could pool all of the relevant information in one place that was completely clear.

      Both of my companies are completely honest, clear and ethical. My other company, I believe offers the most flexible funerals in the country.
      We offer bespoke funerals, set options (including “simple” funerals and direct cremation) per hour or per service options and families arranging the funeral themselves are also welcome to hire space in our mortuary. Therefore, I don’t think we could be any more flexible in terms of services offered or costs.

      To have all of these options along with DWP funded funerals would have made information harder to find on one website which completely defeats the object of transparency.

  2. Fran Hall
    Lorraine Sutherlandpls

    Pls could you help me.my brother died 4mnths ago and still asnt been buried.the funeral directors wont burie him till social fund send a payment to them.and social fund are saying that they will send payment after burial.its dispicable that he is left in the mortuary for this lenghth off time.there must be some one that can help me.im really begging just to lay him at rest with my mum.i want to publish this in news papers but dont no how to go about it

    1. Fran Hall

      Hi Lorraine,

      I’m really sorry to read your post but there are things that can be done to help.

      The majority of funeral directors will ask for at least the disbursements (which are costs they pay out for you) before the funeral takes place.

      However, some funeral directors should issue you with a full and final invoice before the funeral takes place so it can be submitted to the Department of Work and Pensions.

      We are no different. We wouldn’t undertake a funeral until the Department of Work and Pensions paid what was due.

      We do however help with the DWP by issuing a full bill straight away so it gets into their system immediately.

      Your chosen funeral director should do the same thing in order to speed up this process.

      Unfortunately, without being able to pay at least a deposit, there is no obligation for someone to work for you but again, there is help out there.

      Your local advise centre will know if charities you could apply to for financial help. A justgiving page may help you to raise some money too.

      Ultimately, we never ever advise anyone getting into debt over a funeral bill.

      If there is no financial help available through those sources or the Department of Work and Pensions, you can refuse to take responsibility for arranging and paying for a funeral and the NHS or local authority will arrange and pay for this.

      You must be aware that should this be the option you look at, they make all the choices and may mean he won’t get buried with your Mother.

      My advise would be to speak to your funeral director and get an invoice from them and send it off to the Department of Work and Pensions immediately.

      Got an see your local advise centre as they will know of charities that may be able to help you.

      I wish you all the very best but should you need any more help, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or give me a call but I really would start back with the funeral director first for that invoice and get it sent off.

  3. Fran Hall

    I think part of the problem is the British psyche. If people talked about undertakers and what’s on offer at what price in the same way they do about supermarkets, what they sell and the relative cost then the bigger players would not be able to get away with putting up the costs along with the mystification.

    Look on Facebook networks – people are forever discussing which is the best service for this that and the other – but never for funerals.

    It’s the kind of thing where some shopping around in advance would be a good thing — but it’s not really the done thing. Imagine popping your head around the door of the undertakers and saying you’re checking out prices for next time someone in your family dies. It just feels wrong — even if you knew that you would get some decent info — which you wouldn’t round here.

    But once it’s happened, it just does not feel like there is time to do the finding out and shopping around that is needed. More info on the web is definitely the way to go.

    Now, even if I had found this GFG website I don’t think it would have helped me much as the recommended people are all miles from here.

    The British method of giving feedback to businesses is to “vote with one’s feet”. But that’s not easy from the morgue.

    Thing I don’t get though is that if the big, “corporate” players are more expensive than many independent undertakers, why aren’t there more independent undertakers? Is it very hard to make a profit if you’re charging a reasonable rate and not sharing a lot of back office infrastructure?

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