Last weekend, we despatched letters to the boards of trustees of every hospice in the UK to share our concerns about the new franchise offer that was launched at the Hospices UK conference the previous week.
Our misgivings about this venture are shared by a number of individuals and companies who gave permission for their names to be added in support. The letter is published in full below, together with the names of those who agree with us.
The Chair of the Board of Trustees
December 1st 2017
HOSPICE FUNERALS: THE GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE COUNSELS CAUTION
Dear Trustees of SAMPLE Hospice
We write regarding the recent launch of Hospice Funerals LLP, of which you may well be aware. Should you not have heard of this new venture, it is a joint collaboration between St. Margaret’s Hospice Ltd. in Somerset and Memoria Ltd., owner /operator of a number of crematoria around the country and of Low Cost Funeral Ltd.
Hospice Funerals is offering all UK hospices the opportunity of a becoming a partner in their franchise funeral director scheme by becoming a ‘Hospice Provider’, entitled to operate exclusively within a defined area, offering undertaking services branded under the hospice name. For full details, please see the Hospice Funeral website https://www.hospicefunerals.co.uk/
The Good Funeral Guide wishes to draw the attention of the Board of Trustees to the very serious concerns that we have about this proposed new revenue stream generator, despite the public proclamations of how this will address the issue of funeral poverty and ‘bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities.’
As a trusted, not for profit, social enterprise company, wholly independent of the funeral industry, that has for years supported, empowered and represented the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK, we would be delighted to see a truly ethical, community focused undertaking service evolving from the hospice movement; indeed, we have a blueprint guide to how to set up such a model on our website which we developed in partnership with the Plunkett Foundation several years ago.
Unfortunately, this new model proposed by Hospice Funerals does not, in our opinion, fall into the category of an ethical, community focused service, despite the marketing hype.
THE COMMERCIAL RISK
- It is a franchise operation, which is intended to utilise ‘brand recognition’ of the hospice name to leverage advantage over existing providers of undertaking services in the franchise catchment area (defined by Hospice Funerals) and by ‘disrupting the market’, in the process conveniently increasing the numbers of cremations carried out by the crematoria owned by Memoria Ltd.
The Good Funeral Guide is not aware of the successful application of any franchise model to the business of funerals. Franchise operations are best suited to selling merchandise, not personal service. The franchise model proposed by Hospice Funerals is wholly unproven.
- Figures provided by Hospice Funerals indicate an extremely optimistic analysis of the potential income of a ‘Hospice Provider’. Their analysis suggests that a single unit operation offering funeral packages at their pre-specified prices, requiring a capital input of £110,00, would generate £356,500 through sales of 100 ‘at-need’ funerals and 46 pre-arranged funerals in year one, yielding profit of £26,656. Year three sales are projected as comprising 200 ‘at-need’ funerals, 120 pre-arranged, generating £212,964 profit.
The Good Funeral Guide contends that these figures are misleading, to say the least.
The ‘funeral market’ is, by admission of the directors of Memoria Ltd, already saturated with providers. In the town of Taunton, where the first Hospice Funerals unit is scheduled to open in early 2018, there are currently twelve funeral directors catering for the needs of local bereaved families. This in an area with a population of 109,000 (the borough of Taunton Deane) and an average UK death rate of 9.4 per 1,000.
Figures quoted by the representatives of Hospice Funerals at the launch of the scheme last week cited the average cost of funerals in some areas as being ‘well over £6,000’.
This figure was derived from the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017 and was arrived at by adding the cost of a burial in a specific London Borough, Kensal Green, (£9,809) to the cost of a cremation in the same borough (£3,223) and dividing in two.
It is mysterious that the Royal London Report didn’t allow for the fact that almost 80% of UK funerals are cremations. A more accurate average would be to factor in the percentage split of types of funeral, (20 x £9,808 + 80 x £3,223, divided by 100), which would result in an average cost of a funeral in the most expensive location in the UK being £4,504, not the much more alarming figure of £6,516 quoted in the report.
Note: all monies that will be paid into a Hospice Funerals pre-arranged funeral plan will be held in a Royal London whole-of-life policy, indicating a close and perhaps unquestioning relationship between the two bodies.
Directly related to the above ‘average cost of funerals’, the prices of the funeral packages offered by Hospice Funerals range from £1,295 for an unattended service at a Memoria crematorium to £3,500 for a traditional service with a hearse and bearers at a crematorium of your choice.
In comparison with the inflated figures quoted as the cost of an average funeral, this might seem to be a wholly worthy attempt to address funeral poverty, as it was described at the Hospice Funerals launch, yet the prices of their funeral packages are equivalent with, and in some cases higher than, those currently charged for comparable services by most independently owned funeral directors.
As an example, two Good Funeral Guide Recommended Funeral Directors in the Taunton area (where the first white labelled Hospice Funerals unit will start operating in 2018) are both lower priced for the same traditional funeral service, with all third-party costs included:
Wallace Stuart Lady Funeral Directors (Bridgwater) £2,630.00
Crescent Funeral Directors (Taunton) £3,000.00
Hospice Funerals £3,500.00
The Good Funeral Guide is concerned that the figures quoted by Hospice Funerals could erroneously lead hospices to think that they would have a straightforward price advantage over competitors in offering a local undertaking service, when this would simply not be the case.
THE REPUTATIONAL RISK
We also consider the employment of the name and reputation of hospice, both specifically in the use of the individual name of a local franchisee, and nationally in the use of the company name ‘Hospice Funerals’, to be a calculated, and indeed one could say cynical, attempt to persuade the public that this new undertaking model is simply an extension of the highly reputable and locally supported end of life care provided by their cherished local hospice.
The fact that it is in fact a white label operation, maximizing the use of the ‘brand name’ of the hospice in each area, controlled by Memoria Ltd, who have divided the UK into ‘catchments’ of 100,000 people (and who are proffering these 650 areas for sale at £10,000 p.a. franchise opportunities to hospices as a means of securing their much-needed income) seems to be lost somewhere in the marketing spin.
We would suggest any hospice considering entering an arrangement of this kind notes the following:
- Other franchisees could give the brand a bad reputation
- All profits (a percentage of sales) are shared with the franchisor.
- The franchise agreement will include restrictions on how you can run the business. You might not be able to make changes to suit your local market.
- You may find that after time, ongoing franchisor monitoring becomes intrusive
- The franchisor might go out of business.
Reputational damage to individual hospices signing up to this opportunity could potentially be catastrophic. Legacy donations and in memoriam fundraising could be seriously impacted if families elect to use a hospice funeral home, as they could consider they have done their ‘giving back’ to the hospice through their payment of the fees involved with the funeral.
The move from being perceived as a deserving recipient of gifts and donations to being seen as a money-making business entity, competing with established, trusted and well-liked funeral providers, is a subtle but potentially disastrous one, impacting on the public perception that a hospice is a wholly altruistic organisation.
Comments on our blog post about the advent of Hospice Funerals have been overwhelmingly against the idea of hospices entering the supplying of funeral services.
Phrases used include ‘unethical’ (several times) ‘goes against every principle a hospice should stand by’, ‘will negatively impact their charitable and bequest income’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘risk losing this public support’, ‘at what point does care and support for the dying and impartial advice given to a family suddenly at sea after a death turn into a sales opportunity?’
On social media, there has been a similar reaction. Questions have been asked about the arms-length relationship between a hospice and its funeral home – how will this work in reality? What will be the impact on the current relationship with local undertakers when the hospice enters the marker as a direct competitor? How will the new hospice funerals service be promoted to the community, and how will this be reacted to?
It seems to us that hospices will be carrying all of the risk in the hope of optimistically calculated but completely unproven rewards.
If SAMPLE HOSPICE is considering partnering with Hospice Funerals, we would counsel strongly that the trustees take heed of our concerns before making your final decision to risk your donated funds to venture into competition against the local funeral directors who work so closely with you to look after the families of those whose lives end in your care.
The Good Funeral Guide is supported in our misgivings about the wisdom of this new venture by the individuals and organisations listed below, some of whom may be known to you as local, independently owned undertakers who share our fears about this seductive offer being touted to hospices around the UK.
Should you wish to contact me directly about this I would be more than happy to discuss our collective concerns further. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CEO Good Funeral Guide CIC
On behalf of the board of directors of the Good Funeral Guide and the undersigned supporters.
A Oliver & Sons Funeral Directors
A.W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service Ltd
Adrian Pink – Town & Country Funerals
Alistair Turner Funeral Directors
Allistair Anderson & Hasina Zaman – Compassionate Funerals
Amanda Pink – Evelyn’s Funerals
Andrew Dotchin (Reverend)
Andrew Smith Funeral Service
Angie McLachlan MA; BA Hons, BIE
Anna Briggs – Independent Officiator of bespoke funeral ceremonies
Anne & Simon Beckett-Allen – Rosedale Funerals
C Waterhouse & Sons
Carrie-Ann Rouse – Rouse & Co. Independent Funeral Directors
Carrie Weekes & Fran Glover – A Natural Undertaking
Claire Turnham – Only With Love
Claire Young – Young’s Independent Funeral Services
Clare Brookes – VW Funerals
Colin Liddell – Liddell Funeral Services
Coles Funeral Directors
David Hardie & Son Funeral Directors
David Holmes – Holmes & Family
Don O’Dwyer – O’Dwyer Funerals
E A Dodd & Son
Edward Towner – Arthur C. Towner Ltd
Emma Curtis – Secular Minister, Celebrant & Grief Counsellor
Eric Massie Funeral Directors
Gail Willington – Elizabeth Way & Company
Gordon Tulley & Alison Finch – Respect Woodland Green Burial Parks
Heathfield Funeral Service
Jacob Conroy & Sons Funeral Directors
James L Wallace Funeral Directors
Jane Morgan – Jane Morgan Ceremonies
Jeremy Neal – Rotherham Funerals
Jo Loveridge – Albany Funerals
John Beattie & Sons Funeral Directors
John Pinder – W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd
Judith Dandy – Dandelion Farewells
Judy Mansfield – Cherish Ceremonies
Karen & Julian Hussey – A. G. Down
Leverton & Sons
Louise Winter – Poetic Endings
Lucy Coulbert – The Individual Funeral Company & Coulbert Family Funerals
Like & Liz Farthing – Farthing Funeral Service
Maggie Brinklow & Tony Killen – Margaret Rose & Bespoke Funerals
Malcolm Jones – Molyneux Jones Family Funeral Directors
Mark Binnersley MPRCA Communications Consultant
Martin Stibbards – S. Stibbards & Sons
Matthew Lucas Funeral Directors
Michael & Clare Gamble – Michael Gamble Funeral Directors
Nick Armstrong – Armstrongs Funeral Service
Nikki Hill – Bright-Hill Funerals
Overmass & Chapple
Paul Burrows Gibson – Veterans Funerals UK
Paul Sullivan – Sullivan Funeral Directors
Peter Grenfell Funeral Directors
Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals
Philip & Sallie Evans – Sussex Funeral Directors
Rosalie Kuyvenhoven – Rituals Today
Robert Samson Funeral Directors
Rupert Callender – The Green Funeral Company & Callender, Callender, Caughty & Drummond
Saint & Forster Funeral Directors
Simon Helliar-Moore & Robert Helliar-Moore – Crescent Funerals
Simon Smith – Green Fuse, Heart & Soul Funerals
Southgate & Roberts
Tim Coombe – Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician
Tim Purves – William Purves Funeral Directors
Tilly Munro – Community Funeral Specialist
Toby Angel – Sacred Stones Ltd.
Tom Woodhouse Funeral Directors
Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors
W G Catto Funeral Directors
W G Potter
Wood & Hay Funeral Directors