‘Serious concerns in the funeral sector’ identified by CMA

Fran Hall 14 Comments
Fran Hall

The Competitions and Markets Authority are proposing a major funerals probe after identifying serious concerns in the funeral sector.

It’s a long read – 133 pages – find the full interim report on the Funerals Market Study page here (scroll down for ‘Interim report and consultation’.

We publish this morning’s press release in full below:

‘Today’s interim report presents the issues the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has identified since launching a Market Study into the funerals sector 6 months ago.

Its initial work indicates problems with the market that have led to above inflation price rises for well over a decade – both for funeral director services and crematoria services. The scale of these price rises does not currently appear to be justified by cost increases or quality improvements.

Given the nature and significance of the issues the CMA has identified, it believes the full powers of a Market Investigation – carried out by an independent group of CMA panel members – are required. Issues include that:

  • Today, people generally spend between £3,000 and £5,000 organising a funeral, and the price of the essential elements has increased by more than two-thirds in the last 10 years, almost 3 times the rate of inflation. Organising a funeral would now cost those on the lowest incomes nearly 40% of their annual outgoings, more than they spend on food, clothing and energy combined.
  • Customers could save over £1,000 by looking at a range of choices in their local area. However, people organising a funeral are usually distressed and often not in a position to do this – making it easier for some funeral directors to charge higher prices. Prices are also often not available online, making it difficult to compare options.
  • While some smaller funeral directors have sought to keep their prices low, other providers – the larger chains in particular – have implemented policies of consistently high year-on-year price increases. A number of these have now introduced lower cost funeral options, but this doesn’t go far enough to make up for years of above inflation price hikes. The CMA’s evidence also indicates most people who organise a funeral remain extremely vulnerable to exploitation and future rises in charges.
  • Cremations account for 77% of funerals, yet there are limited choices for most people in their local area and fees charged by crematoria have increased by 84% on average in the past 10 years, more than 3 times the rate of inflation.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said:

“People mourning the loss of a loved one are extremely vulnerable and at risk of being exploited. We need to make sure that they are protected at such an emotional time, and we’re very concerned about the substantial increases in funeral prices over the past decade.

We now feel that the full powers of a market investigation are required to address the issues we have found. We also want to hear from people who have experienced poor practices in the sector, so that we can take any action needed to fix these problems.”

The CMA will now be consulting on the potential market investigation reference and welcomes any views on the issues identified in its report by 4 January 2019.

It would also like to hear from people involved in the industry and others, who may have observed instances of poor quality standards in the back-of-house facilities of funeral directors. Details on how to respond are available on the funerals market study page of the CMA website’


  1. Fran Hall

    The most frustrating element in this (much needed )conversation is the lack of representation from the key stakeholder – the public, the families being abused at their most vulnerable time. Trade organisations principally work for the members, and by default their clients are a lesser priority.

    There are many independent funeral directors working with integrity, serving families with respect, and operating with commercial pragmatism. We must not fall into the trap of ‘labelling’ the industry with the same disreputable practices.

    Neither should Government rely on the behemoth FD corporations for insight.

    The Good Funeral Guild is the only association working for the general public. Go GFG.

    1. Fran Hall

      Greta points here Tony

      Certainly agree, where is the input from “the key stakeholder…”? And ditto, “….the behemoth FD corporations…” who are of course solely responsible for this shambles

      And fwiw, I’ve just sent this to the CMA:-

      “…..Dear Sirs

      I have read with much interest your very solid and commendable Interim Report into the Industry

      Although not either a Funeral director or employed by one, I am a life long career professional undertaking Probate and allied work largely for firms of Solicitors. As such I have considerable experience of the Funeral Industry and am in something of an unusual position

      I can do no more than (if you have not done so) to refer you to the outstanding ‘Good Funeral Guide’, particularly the on-line blog (where I have been a fairly regular poster over the years). It gives one all that they need to know about ‘the Corporate effect’ on Funerals, particularly Funeral poverty


      Andrew Plume”



  2. Fran Hall

    No surprises here, we are (in the business) well aware of the high prices charged by corporate funeral directors, and that these high prices don’t usually equate to a better service. In reality, the bigger firms can offer the poorest value. Local authorities and corporate owned crematoria have also pushed their prices far higher than can be justified – buying a cremation or grave can be like supporting a football team, you are a captive market because you can’t easily go elsewhere. There is ‘only’ your local, a Spurs fan is a Spurs fan for life, regardless of how much the tickets cost, or how well the team is managed or who owns it. The saddest thing is, the Good funeral guide is a brilliant resource, anyone needing a funeral should consult it, but not enough do. The GFG cannot afford to properly market itself, it has no revenue source, and can’t easily profit from it’s excellent work. Hopefully in the months ahead the CMA will make a big fuss, call-out the bad guys, name names and educate funeral buyers? I hope too that it can bring pressure to bear, (forgive the pun) to end free Coroner’s removal contracts – which in my view are scandalously exploitative. After all, why would these corporate’s remove or transfer a body at all hours of the day and night for free, unless they could profit from it?

    1. Fran Hall

      Hi David

      Coroner’s Removal Contracts – In their submission to the CMA, ‘Beyond’ have highlighted this:

      “…….Coroners/police contracts – many companies bid, some at zero cost, to provide removal contracts for deaths at home, out of home etc. Although guidelines typically stipulate that the collecting cannot market to the family, it is our understanding that many do and that most of the time the family will end up staying with that funeral director. There is also evidence that funeral directors will charge removal and storage fees to someone if they decide…….”


      1. Fran Hall

        The recent death of the Footballer Emiliano Sala and the removal of his body to the Dorset Coroner ‘triggered’ a serious concern that I had (some years ago) regarding ‘the role’ played by Co-operative Funeralcare when they were the ‘chosen contractor’ for the Coroner.  Their ‘area’ covered Weymouth, Bridport and Dorchester (and possibly larger).  Charles Cowling instigated a piece on here when Funeralcare effected a Coroner’s removal in Bridport and an article then appeared in the local Newspaper, the ‘Dorset Echo’.  Funeralcare didn’t (from memory) come out of that completely ‘smelling of roses’.  I then spent some ‘analysing’ the Death Notices published in said Newspaper.  Admittedly not every death has ‘it’s own published Notice but those that appear could potentially draw certain conclusions……………………..

        Based on the wording used in these Notices it’s usually clear which deaths would had to have been referred to the Dorset Coroner. I found that over a period of approx six months (of looking at the published Notices) that the Weymouth Branch of Funeralcare were significantly instructed by Families.  From memory, it was at least 50% of the ‘Coroner’s removals’ that they had almost certainly undertaken. The percentage may well have been higher but it was more than enough (and as I said above) to seriously concern me

        Why have I referred to Emiliano…….?  Well with their usual lack of discretion ‘The Daily Mail’ decided to include in their article (re the arrival of his body into the UK), a video showing the Private Ambulance that was used. Now it’s always easy to identify Funeralcare’s Ambulances, they just love to have their name plastered all over the vehicle, nicely subtle (of course).  The Ambulance used was clearly not owned by Funeralcare, probably it was AJ Wakely & Sons, judging by the Registration Plate (as Wakely’s also carry out Coroner’s work). That led me thinking again to published Death Notices in the ‘Dorset Echo’.  I’ve gone back from today until the beginning of last July, that’s seven months.  Of the deaths where it was pretty apparent that the Coroner’s Contractor would have had to have been called out, only four (of those deaths) resulted in the Weymouth Branch of Funeralcare being instructed.  I didn’t log’ the apparent number of probable Coroner’s referrals during this period but the number of instructions received by that Branch arising out of the Coroner’s involvement were drastically less, perhaps under 10%

        There are a number of respectable Indy’s in the greater Weymouth/Portland area, Dignity aren’t represented and Funeralcare are the sole Corporate.  Clearly business at the Funeralcare Weymouth Branch seems to have decreased during the two different periods that I’ve studied. Whether Funeralcare are still instructed by the Coroner in that area is not known to me but there’s a massive coincidence here (I would say)……………

        It would be good to hear from Independent firm’s if they have noticed similar “coincidences”.  After all ‘Transparency’ is a word that is being increasingly used towards the UK Funeral Industry


  3. Fran Hall

    Glad to see report well behind the times this should have happened years ago industry needs a big shake up
    For large & small funeral providers need to clean up the profession I have seen good & bad practice in large & small providers over the last 28 years I have worked for both
    Ball now in Leaders court of all providers now need to put prices on own website
    NAFD & SAIF need to make it part of their membership to all members they could do that straight away tomorrow
    A start price is needed for for all Funeral Directors/ Funeral Service Company in UK for Cremation or Burial needed as a UK min price
    £800 for FD fees ,coffin & 1 vehicle, plus what the Cremation fee or Burial fee is in your location

    Also recent funeral service providers set up in UK trying to be Funeral Directors no experience no training offering bad practice & bad behaviour who have been reported to the CMA upsetting local communities
    No regulation checks on standards of care of these providers

    Money is of course a factor but also about standards good practice & high level of service to all families
    All companies should have to show prices & what that covers on all websites so nothing to hide
    Clean up of plan sales to go under FSA rules
    This could be the next ppi ref miss selling
    Stop commission payments on sale of plans

    Also prices of Crematoriums & Cemeteries & Burial grounds pricing issues
    Lack of venues in UK for Funeral Services
    Timeslot time issues all Crematoriums 1 hour slot standard
    Also issues on
    Double fees
    Treble fees
    Qaud fees been charged
    New start require for Funeral procession across everything & all providers
    Wake up call

  4. Fran Hall

    So how are they going to hear from the public? And instead of looking at cremation market separately they should be doing both together and seeing the impact on the public and independents of small number of big chains owning both the funeral directing business and many of the crematoria too. Of course that affects how things work for the “independents” and the public.

  5. Fran Hall

    Having just ‘sped read’ through the entire Report, one word has been frequently used i.e. “fragmented” – and as followers of this blog will know this is an expression that has often been used by Dignity in their on-line Reports, personally I find it condescending and is almost a shot aimed by Dignity at the Independents

    And there’s absolutely no surprise from the Report that Dignity comes out of this unfavourably after all they’ve been the ‘main driver’ in keeping prices at such a ridiculous level……………………


  6. Fran Hall

    Wanted to comment on Fran’s really helpful blog entry “Time to speak up” but the comments don’t seem to be open. I want to reply to the consultation as a member of the public but it’s hard to do so in an informed way – in the same way it is hard for a member of the public to make fully informed decisions during the process of arranging a funeral. I’m hoping you can help me understand a bit more before I respond to the consultation. In Fran’s precis of the report, there is a reference to the crematoria sector. The emerging idea seems to be that more crematoria would figure as part of the solution. This seems to me to be counter to cost saving and also to have a negative environmental impact. Crematoria running efficiently at capacity without taking up further land would make more sense to me in the longer term – and more duties for local authorities in respect of body disposal and ensuring that people who need an affordable funeral can have one would seem a more logical way forward to me.

    These are the things I would like to understand better:

    – when someone dies at home and is not required to be taken away for a post-mortem, what happens then?

    – for someone who has died in hospital, how long will a hospital mortuary keep a body?

    – is there anywhere at the moment, other than at an undertakers or at home, that a body can be kept while the relatives plan for the funeral?

    – do any undertaking companies offer a body storage only service?

    – is there any research around the percentage of people who would be happy to have a funeral service in a venue of their choice with the body present in the coffin at the service and for the coffin then to be taken away to a crematorium, not necessarily local, which the relatives do not necessarily visit themselves but which can cremate at an affordable price (most likely a local authority crematorium?)

    – how easily could that be done without undertakers e.g. who would put the body into the coffin from cold storage on the day of the funeral, how easy would it be for relatives to transport the coffin from a vehicle in and out of the building and vehicle for the funeral service, can a body legally be transported to a crematorium by someone other than by relatives or undertakers?

    – why are some former local authority crematoria now in the hands of private sector funeral industry?

    – can a CMA study result in recommendations for the public sector or is the funeral industry being treated as though it is 100% private sector enterprise?

    1. Fran Hall

      So sorry – have just enabled comments on my last post – if you would like to copy and paste your comment there then am sure you’ll receive some answers to your questions from some of our other readers, and if not, I’ll try and do so.

  7. Fran Hall

    With the word ‘transparency’ often being used in connection with the CMA Report and concern (from some) as to the lack of on line pricing, this must be an appropriate time for the large Independent firms (who currently do not disclose their prices via their websites) to do exactly that…………and why not too……..?  They’re very keen to include details of Funeral Plans but consistently prices are never mentioned…….It’s overdue for them to ‘break cover’ on this and demonstrate to the three large Corporates what they should themselves be doing

    In England (in particular) there are some seriously large (Branch wise that is) Independent firms who are much respected (and similarly well known for their work) who I feel should (definitely now) be going ‘the extra mile’.  This is not ‘a name and shame exercise’, in fact far from it………….Here are six firms who presently have no on line prices (at all):-

    FA Albin & Sons (7 Branches); T Cribb & Sons (16); Alan Greenwood & Sons (27); West & Coe (17); WA Truelove & Sons (17); and W Uden & Sons (7). The majority being located in Greater London, the others being in Essex, Surrey and Kent

    And as to the Greater London side of ‘the Industry’, the very well known and much respected Leverton & Sons, (to me) show exactly how prices should appear on a web site i.e.

    https://www.levertons.co.uk/levertons-price-list and https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/901c39_430f9d1e4d2447ca85b8b0beff2863c7.pdf

    Outside of the above areas (and this isn’t based on extensive research) two firms (in particular) have clearly taken significant time including adding varied and detailed Price Lists to their websites, namely Freeman Brothers (http://www.freemanbrothers.co.uk/downloads/) based in West Sussex and AW Lymm (Notts and Derby).  The Lymm’s Brochure is incredibly extensive and detailed:-


    So to the terrific ‘Indy’s’ out there in ‘Funeral Land’, get your websites updated and fully informative, there’s never been a better time



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