We haven’t approved you, Dignity Funerals

Fran Hall 12 Comments
Fran Hall

We want to make it very clear to anyone who might be unaware – the Good Funeral Guide CIC had nothing to do with the recent announcement of Dignity PLC’s sidekick, Simplicity Cremations as ‘The Best Direct Cremation Provider 2018’ with a ‘Good Funeral Award’.

Having been co-organiser since they began, the Good Funeral Guide is no longer involved in any way with the Good Funeral Awards, we parted company with Brian Jenner amicably last year.

We wrote about it in a post on the blog earlier this year. And Brian wrote about it on his blog too

We have no knowledge or understanding of the deliberations involved in arriving at a decision to name a Dignity offshoot the best in the country.

Rest assured, had we still been involved in the Good Funeral Awards, we would have strongly resisted handing such a valuable accolade to the marketing people at Dignity to emblazon on their website and include in their press releases.

It simply wouldn’t have happened.

Our record shows our feelings about Dignity PLC. We have written almost 50 blog posts over the years, making our thoughts very clear.

Today we feel it is essential to write another.

Yesterday’s announcement that the online-only, Dignity owned, direct cremation service Simplicity Cremations is now offering clients an attended ceremony at a Dignity owned crematorium for an all inclusive price of £1,895 references the fact that Simplicity Cremations was recognised as Best Direct Cremation Provider at this year’s Good Funeral Awards.

We are concerned that this might be misconstrued as an endorsement of some kind by the Good Funeral Guide CIC by anyone who missed the announcements of our withdrawal from the organising of the awards.

It is not.

We do not endorse Dignity’s calculated attempt to step in as a solution to the issue of funeral poverty by offering their services at a rock bottom price.

We consider funeral poverty to have been very much contributed to by the bloated price increases charged year on year by Dignity PLC and other funeral providers following their business model.

We do not endorse the fact that, in areas where Dignity own a crematorium, local people looking for a low cost funeral will now find that the best price for a funeral service is offered by a company also owned by Dignity.

Meanwhile, families from the same areas preferring to use a local independent funeral director to assist them will be charged among the highest fees for cremation*, making the overall cost to these families for similar services disproportionally higher.

How is this fair to bereaved families?

*(Across the UK, the highest cremation fees are charged by Dignity crematoria. See the 2016 report from Beyond here, showing 9 out of the 10 highest priced UK crematoria are Dignity owned.)

How is this a level playing field for small independent funeral directors? For small business owners trying to compete in a market where the cremation fee charged to their clients appears to be vastly higher than that charged by Dignity to clients choosing an ‘Attended Funeral’ from their wholly-owned Simplicity Cremations service?

Here’s an example.

If you live in the Oxford area and want a funeral on a day and time of your choice at Oxford Crematorium (owned by Dignity), and you use a non-Dignity owned funeral director to help you, the cremation fee you will be charged is £1,070 (plus, potentially, doctors’ fees of £164).

If you instead choose the Dignity owned Simplicity Cremations, the full price you will be asked for for the entire funeral service, including cremation fee and doctors fees is £1,895. You can choose the date and time to suit you.

This means that Simplicity Cremations (aka Dignity PLC) is willing to provide all the remaining funeral directing services, including the collection of the person who died, their care, dressing them and taking them to the crematorium on a day and at a time of your choice for just £661.

How is this possible? While there are obviously savings to be made by dealing with bereaved families by phone rather than in person, the remaining services surely come at a greater cost than £661? The only way that we can think that this can make financial sense is that the cremation fee element is not £1,070 for clients engaging Simplicity Cremations rather than another funeral director.

Is this the case? If so, this is not acceptable.

We do not endorse Dignity crematoria offering differential prices to clients of Dignity funeral services, (whether trading under the online Simplicity Cremations name or the locally named high street Dignity branches).

We do not endorse bereaved families being unfairly penalised for choosing a funeral director that is not also owned by the owner of a crematorium in their locality.

We will be writing to the Competition and Markets Authority** to enquire how this situation sits with them.

We suggest anyone who shares our concerns does the same.

**The Competition and Markets Authority ‘promotes competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK. Our aim is to make markets work well for consumers, businesses and the economy.’


  1. Fran Hall

    Yep. They’re clearly cross subsidising their own businesses to the detriment of others and the public in attempt to become monopolistic provider.

  2. Fran Hall

    Interesting article but if we are all honest, are we surprised to read this, its Dignity at the end of the day and nothing they do is a shock.
    Might be time for a whistle blower to come forward and let it be common knowledge if and what the costs are for a independently owned fd and a Dignity owned fd… if the costs are different then the ammunition is available to use.

  3. Fran Hall

    I am so lost with this price of a funeral business. Do some councils still own crematoria? And if so, roughly how much do they charge jsut for a cremation – not a service or use of a chapel room there etc? Why are there more and more private crematoria and fewer and fewer council crematoria?

    1. Fran Hall

      The number of council owned crematoria has not decreased. In fact a small number of news facilities have been built in recent years. The expansion of private crematoria has been massive. Usually built in proximity to busier council crematoria where business is diluted. Private sector fees are generally much higher than those of local authorities (see the fees table in the Royal London report), and those affected authorities losing business might increase fees to maintain standards. This could result in yet another driver for funeral poverty. Seems that deceased persons are rapidly becoming a commercial proposition which is totally distasteful.
      Ps. Noticed on Twitter that a company is offering a contribution to buyers of its funeral plan. Another price war looming ??
      Pps. Apologies for straying off topic Fran.

      1. Fran Hall

        Oh thanks Tim and TonyB that’s interesting. One gets the impression from the outside that the number of council ones have gone down. The way it all works is baffling to the customer. I organised a funeral around 5 or 6 years ago and had a puzzling experience and I think I now understand it better having read a bit on here. Went to the local undertaker – which I’ve now realised is dignity – wanted a cremation on a particular day, but not to have a service or visit to the crem – simply to say goodbye to the coffin at the end of a church service in the afternoon at a time which suited guests traveling from afar. Cost was not an issue. Undertaker says , “no space the crematorium that afternoon, all booked up.” So I go, doesn’t matter, just find another crematorium please. Looks at us oddly and hums and hahs. I go eventually please can you hurry up and organise it all we have lots of other things to arrange rather than sit here. Undertaker phones another crematorium and says they can do that afternoon as long as the coffin is there by such and such a time. I say why does it matter, we don’t want a service —- and then some humming and hahing I never understood about why the coffin still has to arrive during an appointed timeslot for some reason or other. I think I understand half to this now – the first crematorium was Dignity owned and the second crematorium was council owned. Why are councils letting this happen to them?

  4. Fran Hall

    Dear Fran

    There’s a vast profit to be made by operating Crematoriums. You have ‘asked’ “…..Dignity is willing to provide all the remaining funeral directing services, including the collection of the person who died, their care, dressing them and taking them to the crematorium on a day and at a time of your choice for just £661…….” mmm……………almost certainly not imo. I have done some ‘creative’ but logical thinking and looking at the potential costings involved. I’ve deliberately not factored in the costs of Dignity setting up this operation

    Starting at ‘the removal/collection’ from a large Hospital close to one of Dignity’s hubs. Say, they have a large operation in that area and collect, say, four bodies for each visit. Three of these originate from clients who have chosen ‘the Traditional Funeral package’, so the Revenue for those three will be £2,970 (i.e. £990 per removal). Similarly a vast amount and effecting ‘an economies of scale’ business principle which is of course is for Dignity’s benefit only and not passed back to their clients. Based on that Revenue figure (£990), collecting another body, I suggest pretty well costs nothing

    Back at the hub, a quick and appropriate wash follows, pop the deceased into a combustible body bag and then place in your cheapest Crem coffin. Likely costs for that including the coffin, very little since Dignity manufacture their own coffin’s. Costs to date, even £85 seems on the high side

    And then it’s off to the Dignity locally owned Crem. Instead of making a special trip, you utilise the Hearse which is already going there for the fully paid package. Since all Hearses have a large space under the deck (on which the coffin sits) the coffin for the Simplicity Funeral is simply (sic) popped in underneath, no one need be aware of this (as there’s no need). While the service is going ahead the boys, sorry, ‘Funeral Operatives’ remove the second coffin which is wheeled into the back of the Crem for the separate service. No extra costs at the Crem for this since there are already ‘paid staff’. The financial cost of transporting the coffin to the Crematorium could well be literally nil

    And now to the actual Crem costs. For the 52 week period ended 29 December 2017, Dignity made ‘initial profits’ of £43.9M from Revenue of £74M solely in respect of their Crematoria Business. Deductions against Corporation Tax took the profit down to £38.2M. Let’s assume that the 2018 figures will be exactly the same. This produces a Profit of 51.6%. Translating that into the Oxford Crem fee of £1,070 sees a Profit per ‘body’ of £552, an actual ‘cost’ to Dignity of £518

    What does all of this result in, in financial terms for this ‘Simply Cremations product’? Well imo a very respectable overall profit for Dignity. For example if the death had been referred to HM Coroner, no fees would be payable by Dignity for the initial confirmation of death etc. So from the top, the cost to the client is £1,895 and based on all of the above, ‘the deductions’ are £85 and £518, totalling£603, a net profit of £1,292 or 68%. Of course the profit will be slightly smaller if the Coroner was not involved. Such figures will I’m sure have a ‘salivating effect’ on Dignity’s shareholders. Fran, you also mentioned Dignity offering this product “at a rock bottom price”. My figures show that the Profit is very much not “rock bottom”

    No one from Dignity ever appears to be forthcoming in replying to any on-line post on here, so in the absence of that one has to make their own financial calculations and allied assumptions. A couple of months ago (27 August) I blogged on here with a large post re Dignity and thanks indeed to those including Fran who have continued with ‘this theme’. In a subsequent post to that article I set out the prices for four non-Dignity London owned Crematoria. If all concerned can make respectable Profits on those fees and I’m sure they can, why ‘Dear Reader’ is Dignity not doing the same? Part of the reason must be that they are ‘a Plc’ with all of the costs that come with it, plus the expense of the Directors and the individual layers of Management which come with it……………

    Finally, I very much agree with you regarding Dignity’ inclusion in the recent Awards. In addition they were prosed under another category. Needless to say the sole focus on the original Awards was in promoting Independently owned concerns and not those of a Corporate



  5. Fran Hall

    Some good accounting assumptions there. I think I am starting to understand this a little better – and I can kind of see a way that the situation could change a little for the better.

    But first of all, I have these questions:

    (1) Private crematoria have set up and can successfully charge more than their public sector counterparts because (a) there are a few places without a crematorium close by ? and (b) people tend to have a ceremony at the crematorium at the time the body arrives at the crematorium so this limits the number of cremations unless the crematoria does some extra cremations without ceremonies? (c) over time more and more people have chosen cremation over burial for various different reasons thus increasing the demand for cremation and local authority crematoria have not adapted to this rise in demand

    (2) Undertakers can arrange a cremation at whatever crematorium they like but as the cremation fees vary this will affect the total cost of the funeral? So, independent undertakers who are based near an expensive private crematorium will struggle to compete price-wise with a Dignity undertaker as they have to pay the full price of a Dignity cremation whereas to a Dignity the cost of the cremation at a Dignity crematorium is simply the actual cost of burning one more person. Is that right?

    (3) There are a lot of churches around the country with buildings and vicars and parishes in need of more money who are more than well able to offer nice funeral services with the coffin on display during the ceremony for a reasonable fee – and more of these would be of benefit both to the churches and the bereaved? And there are plenty of other nice places around the country where a service with an independent celebrant could take place at reasonable cost too?

    (4) “direct cremation” involves no ceremony or a ceremony after the deceased has been cremated? There must be people who would prefer cremation after a ceremony and for the deceased to be at the ceremony in the coffin prior to cremation

    (5) a lot of local authorities are incredibly cash strapped at the moment and looking for all kinds of ways to increase their income so that they can maintain and even better, improve vital services

    So the fact that the local authorities have not changed their business model as the population has increased, to allow more cremations to take place at the local authority crematoria has had the following effect:
    (a) more funeral poverty
    (b) cremations which are less fuel efficient at private crematoria which do not have a large throughput
    (c) quite ridiculously, planning permission has even been given for private crematoria in some greenbelt places as “exceptional circumstances” through propagation of the notion that people need to be cremated very close to where they lived and also because local crematoria are only offering 30 minute ceremony slots because of the slavish notion that the funeral ceremony needs to be at the crematorium
    (d) a tradition of weekday funerals only which impoverishes people still more as some are suffering loss of earnings for the day of the funeral which they wouldn’t if it was at the weekend
    (e) direct cremation = funeral ceremonies without the deceased present in the coffin – fine if that is one’s choice but to have to do this for lack of money because your closest crematorium is charging at least double what a good value council crem would charge is

    It seems to me that local authorities could get a bit more business like and do the following:

    (a) communicate (advertise?) direct to the public about their fees and how one can have a really nice service elsewhere and be cremated there afterwards and the crematorium does not need to be really close to home and the service can be on any day and at any time during the week that they choose and can find a suitable building and celebrant for

    (b)cremate as many people as they possibly can – not limit themselves to the number of daytime ceremony slots they have in the crematorium chapels or whatever you call them (ok, some crematoria do a few extra by direct cremation but it seems that pretty much they are letting the ceremony slots dictate how many deceased go through the cremators in a week) — by holding over more and doing more cremations over night and at weekends?

    (c) cut cremation fees at crematoria where they are not operating the cremators at full capacity 24/7 so that they become the crematorium of choice for a wide area

    If they think strategically, local authorities should be able to wipe the floor with the crematoria owned by the big chains as they have the economies of scale that the small private crematoria will never have and also they have some prime sites across the country.

    Turning this all on its head, I think it’s in part the failure of local authorities over the years to adapt their crematoria services to change that has contributed to the increase in funeral poverty and we can’t just blame it all on the big chains.

  6. Fran Hall

    Local authorities have historically had one hand tied behind their backs in not being able to compete on equal terms with the private sector. This was enshrined in law. Now, however, the Localism Act exists and some authorities are establishing trading companies and looking toward prividing a funeral directing (and other) outlet. Quite a few already provide a municipal funeral service which is a low cost option arranged and tendered to local funeral directors. A fixed price is secured for a basic specification and those that use the service are guaranteed that price. Halton Borough Council has recently launched its municipal funeral service. Could these municipal services be a springboard to local ‘one stop shops’?

  7. Fran Hall

    Yes, it’s never been quite the same for them as the private sector but with a bit of thought they could always offer some cost effective and good options for both the taxpayer and the bereaved in co-operation with others for some of the extras – and as you say having wholly owned companies is easier now too for councils.

    Did some crematoria go to the private sector at the time of CCT? I’m looking at this list of crematoria organised by the date they were built and some of the earliest ones are in private sector hands according to this list:


    One of my closest crematoria is owned by the local authority. The cremation fee without any service is about £360. The amount with a service depends on the lenght of the service. Churches have an agreement that their funeral ceremony fees will be the same or less than at a crematorium. So, without the funeral director bit of the costs, it should be possible to have a nice funeral that doesn’t cost the earth in a choice of venues. There are other suitable secular venues too.

    But clearly if you are going to make a successful business out of those remaining bits – putting the deceased in a coffin (if necessary – this can be done at the hospital morgue if that is where the deceased is), preparing for a viewing, driving the coffin to the ceremony, carrying it in and out etc, you’ve got to charge quite a bit for it. But how much you profit out of it is up to the business and the customer? I am not quite sure how unnecessary profit margin on these “extra bits” can be brought down other than through market forces?

    One thing is for sure though – it’s really hard finding out the information that one would need to do it at a reasonable price with or without a funeral director. Quick web searches just reveal the usual advice when someone dies which usually list finding a funeral director high up in the list of steps to take.

    And the government advice on getting financial help is not that easy to read and understand:


  8. Fran Hall

    The Funeral business is more complex than most people imagine.
    Unless you are in the business, then you cannot possibly criticise those who are in it, just on the face of costs.
    At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Neither should Cremation fees be confused with Burial fees (which are much higher and invariably go to the church, or place of burial. The funeral director just collects these and several other ‘disbursements’ on behalf of others.
    Small businesses work every hour they can to make ends meet and keep the costs down, but invariably to the cost of their own health and the sacrifice of family life.
    Please read a lot more before you criticise an industry you do not understand.

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