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Fran Hall

There’s a tremendously interesting publication from the University of Dundee by researcher Ruth Bickerton and Dr. Carlo Morelli which we’ve been reading over the last few days.  It came out earlier this year, and is called Funeral Poverty in Dundee – Funeral Link Evaluation. It’s about Funeral Link, a charity set up to address the problem of funeral poverty in Dundee.

The report is a comprehensive evaluation of the project in its initial phase of existence, which makes fascinating reading. It is a thorough analysis of the need for such an independent, informed advocacy service with a specific goal of helping people who are struggling with funeral costs. Other local authorities might like to make this required reading for their decision makers.

In analysis of the impact of Funeral Link, one of the stakeholders quoted the need for this funeral advice as being ‘essential’. They went on to say ‘There’s a stigma about saying you don’t have the money for a funeral. With Funeral Link you can go anonymously for advice and sign-posting, and get an idea of what your options are, and what they might cost.’

Along with analysing the effects of the existence of Funeral Link, the report also offers an analysis of the process and the current funeral market.

It’s worth a read even if you’re not responsible for the purse strings of a local authority budget. Some extracts below:

2.3i Need Recognition

“One level of uncertainty comes in the form of information asymmetry between the next of kin and the funeral director. This takes a number of forms: first the consumer is making decisions at a time of significant stress and cognitive dissonance. Grief and emotional distress limit the ability to process and evaluate information. Next of kin are thus uncertain as to the exact nature of the funeral director’s role and the funeral director’s role itself can be multi-faceted and ambiguous in three distinct areas.

First, in ensuring statutory requirements are followed by the next of kin, involving complying with the legal requirement that is to dispose of a deceased’s remains. Second, they also have a sales role. A funeral director is a direct service provider, involving the provision of services on behalf of the next of kin in the maintenance, care and movement of the deceased. In this sales role they additionally act as an intermediary sales organisation supplying services of third party providers such as booking slots at crematoria or burial grounds, ordering flowers, organising post-funeral receptions or placing notices in newspapers. A funeral director’s third and final act is to provide counselling, advisory and even advocacy activities. Funeral directors provide counselling and comfort, listening to the next of kin and guiding them in decision making, through a one-to-one meeting to make the arrangements. Funeral directors also provide advisory information and signposting to next of kin for their bereavement journey and, finally, they provide advocacy functions with regulatory bodies such as the NHS, police or the Department for Work and Pensions, via the completion of formal applications for means-tested Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payments SF200.

The ambiguity within the funeral director/next of kin relationship facilitates both the development of information asymmetry in the contracting between parties but also the prospect of moral hazard in the potential abuse of the power relationship arising from these information asymmetries. Moral hazard can be understood as consumers making decisions detrimental to their wellbeing due to an inability to distinguish between the elements of the funeral director’s counselling, advisory and advocacy functions. There is the potential for what economists regard as opportunism in the contracting and price setting environment, as consumers’ preferences are revealed in advance to funeral directors revealing their price elasticities, allowing for the potential emergence of price discrimination and individualised pricing.” 

 

2.4 The Funeral Market

“The funeral market has distinct and related properties which distinguish it from other markets for services and explain why it is difficult for the market to operate as other markets would be expected to operate. The fixed nature of demand and the oligopolistic nature of competition together increase the potential for market failure leading to consumers paying higher costs than might otherwise occur.

In most consumer markets a reduction in price would be expected to increase the consumption of the service. This is not the case for funerals. Demand for funeral services is what economists would understand as inelastic and changes in price therefore do not impact on the quantity demanded within a market. The consequence for the supply of funerals and competition is thus that, for entry of new producers into the market to occur (or alternatively for existing firms to cut prices) the only change would be for existing demand to be redistributed among the producers of funeral services. Market competition in this environment is what many would understand to be a zero sum game.

Attempts to influence the timing of purchases for funeral services occurs through pre-payment and funeral plans, in order to bring forward income to firms, but this cannot alter the absolute market size for funerals. Market size is influenced, and predictable, by the demographics and life expectancy of the population as a whole and therefore of a relatively fixed size with the consequence that entry into the market by new producers has historically been discouraged.”

 

“The funeral director’s role has remained relatively static for many years. Whilst the funeral directors’ origins can be found in the associated activities of carpenters and woodworking companies or garage owners, many of today’s funeral directors are specialist organisations with greater or lesser degrees of investment in specific assets. While buildings can be changed in function, the backroom facilities in cold rooms and refrigeration, funeral limousines and hearses are not easily adapted for alternative uses. Thus the industry itself has been relatively static for many years with little innovation. From the established funeral directors’ perspective, while the dominant duopolistic firms of Dignity and the Co-Op set high prices, smaller firms can adjust their prices at a small discount to those set by these two firms. Smaller firms’ concerns lie not with the actions of the larger dominant firms but with the potential for entry by smaller, and less well-equipped firms. Thus, the low-cost unregulated sector provides a threat to the continued success of established firms and therefore the dominant view presented by the smaller chains and independent firms was to favour regulation conditionally on the basis that the levels were neither set too high nor that the regulatory minima were applied selectively and low cost entrants could avoid regulation.”

There’s lots more, but we felt that the thorough understanding of the funeral process and sector outlined in the report was worth highlighting. 

Conclusion? We need more Funeral Links. Lots of them. Advocates for bereaved people acting as intermediaries and advisors would make a massive difference to people around the UK struggling to afford a funeral.

Well done Linda and team, and the board of Funeral Link trustees overseeing this venture. 

Fran Hall

We are privileged to be able to publish a guest blog from Tracy Douthwaite today.

Tracy works providing training and talks about mental health awareness and wellbeing. Her husband Steve is pictured above, in his garden last summer.

Steve died earlier this year, and Tracy found finding a funeral director a very painful experience. She wrote about it originally on her blog here.

In her e-mail today Tracy comments – ‘I feel passionately that there needs to be huge change with the whole industry and also the way as a society we deal with death and the bereaved.’

Read Tracy’s blog post below. You’ll find it difficult to argue.

What is it about funeral directors that makes them fit into two equally awful categories that means an already overwhelming task feel almost impossible?

When my husband, Steve died this year, I was determined to do a funeral I wanted, nothing too out of the ordinary, although you would have thought I was asking for the earth. Instead of just using the first funeral directors I found, (why are they even called funeral directors the whole thing makes me feel I have gone back to Victorian times.) Anyway, as I was saying I decided to visit a few places to find somewhere that I felt listened to me and I felt comfortable to carry out this important task alongside the family and I. 

The first types of FD are full of sycophantic whispering tones which feel so insincere – you can speak to me like a “normal” person as I am not 5 years old and actually if I was 5 it would still be offensive. Why do they feel you can’t have an adult conversation and mostly they can hardly look at you as if bereavement were catching and to be avoided, surely you are in the wrong job if you feel this is the case?

On one occasion I took my brother with me and the funeral director just completely ignored him, didn’t say hello, shake his hand, look at him, you would think basic social skills were a necessity to do this job. He just whispered “their” way of doing things to me and looked aghast when I suggested anything different. Somehow the fact I wanted less put the price up as it was not in their usual package.

The second group are business minded if you can call it that- full of endless brochures of ridiculously priced coffins and over bearing people who are not listening to a word you say but telling you what you want. E.g what fits with what they offer, they know best as they have been doing it for years and you don’t know what you are talking about. In one place, this time with my Dad we were led past a room full of coffins (could you not have closed the door?) and then left in the sterile, unwelcoming  “Arrangement Room” for ages until a pregnant lady came to talk to us but was more interested in talking about her pregnancy than my wishes- not sure at that point that I wanted to think about new life or her concerns about bending over to hand me a brochure I didn’t want – or am I being harsh?

Not in one of the places I visited was I even offered a tea/coffee, shown any real compassion, or felt welcomed, listened too or valued. If they treated me this way how would they care for my husband if I left him with them? I felt like a commodity and the prices I was quoted were also terrifying. I’m sure most people in that weird dream like, this can’t be happening, vulnerable state just go to the first place and agree with most of what is offered so funeral directors almost feel that they have a captive market.

If more of us found the strength and courage at that most painful of times to say no, to shop around and go where we felt valued and where we felt our departed loved one would be valued than maybe, just maybe things would improve.

Steve, as we all are, was unique and I wanted a funeral in keeping with him as a man and one that would support the families differing needs in saying goodbye. So, this is what I wanted and didn’t want:

  • Motorbike sidecar and hearse- had to be a Triumph, he loved his Triumph bikes.
  • No funeral cars, we would use Taxis instead, less formal and sterile.
  • Double slot at the crematorium so we didn’t feel rushed or part of a procession of funerals (it’s only costs a little bit more, not double the price)
  • Choice of celebrant to conduct the service who would meet with family and take on board our requirements and get a feel for the man
  • Family members to speak at service, not formal eulogy but memories, poems.
  • The coffin to stay in the crematorium as we all left, placing items to go with him and saying our final goodbyes.
  • Able to use own Vessel for ashes after cremation – keeping everything personal

There is nothing that exceptional in our requests but all the little things I feel add up to make it unique. But I was told in some places I would still have to pay for cars I didn’t use, they couldn’t get double slot for a month (although I found out later that was due to them being busy not the crematorium) I checked directly price and availability for bike hearse, they quoted me but said they are usually cheaper via funeral directors. Out of those I tried only one quoted me the same price I had received and all rest much higher, so putting their mark up on it, but none of them wanted me to book it direct- in case something goes wrong!

By this time I was exhausted, frustrated and just angry at the lack of empathy and understanding, I was considering doing everything myself, but in reality I knew it may be too much for me to take on at that point.

I started searching online and found Poppy’s. I emailed my requests as I had run out of energy to speak to people and amazingly, they replied quickly, with a yes, no problem to all my wishes and clear pricing that was affordable. More importantly, even via email I could feel a warmth. Phone calls followed which were just as helpful and understanding, for the first time I felt heard.

When we met in their office, it was a calm environment with sofas, plants and pictures. I was welcomed, given a cup of tea and put at ease immediately. They talked me through want I wanted, what they could do, nothing was too much trouble. They asked me questions, to make sure they had understood everything and gave me opportunities to change my mind. They recommended celebrants based on my needs that I could meet and choose, rather than one assigned to me, I chose Andrew Bone who then came to my home, spent time getting to know the family, understand Steve’s life and crafted a wonderful eulogy.

In the week leading up to the funeral, both Andrew and Poppy’s, called and emailed several times ensuring everything was how I wanted it and checking on all the small details or just asking if there was anything else I wanted.

On the day, the whole service was perfect. I’ve no idea how Andrew got Steve’s character down to a tee but he did. The motorbike and hearse with wild flowers looked stunning- Steve would have loved his final ride (although I’m sure it didn’t go fast enough for him!) Steve’s sons and nephews carried the coffin and because I had so much trust in Poppy’s and Andrew I felt able to share my tribute to Steve, feel completely present for the whole ceremony and do the small things I wanted like place one of his favourite hats on the coffin as I left. The feedback I’ve had from those who attended has been so positive, everyone felt able to remember, celebrate and grieve for Steve in their own way as the whole service felt so supportive and personal.

I feel we must change our relationship with death and the way we say goodbye to those who mean so much to us. In order for this to happen we need people in the industries surrounding this to listen to those who are grieving, adapt and really care- is that too much to ask?

If we have the strength, we also need to share our thoughts and help others in similar situations find their voice and act as agents of change.

Tracy Douthwaite

Connect with me on twitter facebook or Linkedin

 

Fran Hall

There’s a beautiful little video on Death Cafe’s website celebrating eight years since the first Death Cafe took place in London. Watch it here.

In the eight years since our friend Jon and his mum, Sue held the very first Death Cafe, more than 9,200 Death Cafes have been held, in 65 countries.

The principles of Death Cafe are simple and clear, and worth re-emphasising in every article or piece about this extraordinary social franchise – Death Cafes are always offered:

– On a not for profit basis
– In an accessible, respectful and confidential space
– With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action
– Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

Holding to these founding principles ensures that every Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes.

Many tens of thousands of people will have found their lives enriched by the opportunity to talk with – and listen to – other people talking about death at a Death Cafe. And, as a result, hopefully many, many people are making the most of their (finite) lives.

We are huge fans of the Death Cafe movement here at the GFG, and are proud to have signed up today with a pledge of support to help Jon’s sister Jools carry on the incredibly important work that is Jon’s legacy.

If any readers would like to do the same, you can become a patron of Death Cafe by pledging a monthly payment to help keep the movement going – and growing.

Sign up here.

Jon Underwood died suddenly on 27th June 2017 after collapsing on 25th June 2017 from acute promyelocytic leukaemia. His mother Sue Barsky Reid and sister Jools Barsky continue his work on Death Café as Jon requested.

Fran Hall

Every now and then the GFG gets an invitation that it can’t turn down.

Being invited to be involved in a research project exploring what matters to people when it comes to funerals was just such an invitation. We were delighted to help in a very small way, and it has been a privilege to be part of the research project advisory committee.

Today, the findings of this extraordinarily important research are published.

We will be proud to be sitting alongside Dr. Julie Rugg and Dr. Sarah Jones when their findings are presented to the ICCM conference this afternoon.

Read the full report here

Fran Hall

The GFG is downing tools today in solidarity with everyone taking part in Global Climate Strike Day.

Young climate strikers are calling on everyone to join massive climate strikes and a week of climate justice actions starting on 20th September.

People all over the world will use their power to call for a halt to ‘business as usual’ and amplify the voices of young people calling for climate justice today and a liveable planet for the future.

Funeralworld, are you doing anything? 

Anything at all??

 

See what’s happening near you by checking the Fridays for Future map

More info about how you can get involved on the global climate strike website and the Campaign against Climate Change website.

Fran Hall

 

Photo by Fox Fisher

On today’s blog, we are delighted to introduce Guild member Ash Hayhurst, who has written an excellent guide for anyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer and concerned about their future funeral arrangements, and for family and friends who might be involved.

More broadly, Ash’s guide is an incredibly useful resource for everyone in the funeral world. If you work in the funeral sector, you need to read this.

Here’s Ash explaining what led him to write the guide.

In March 2019 I began a job as a funeral arranger. I’d never done anything like it before, and everyone in my life was curious. Questions would often lead to long winding conversations about what would happen when we died. Many of my friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, had questions about what they could do to make sure their wishes would be respected. They were worried about family members planning a funeral for them that would ‘gloss over’ their queer identity. My trans friends were worried about having their gender identity respected in death, and I wanted to know what the law said about which name would go on all of the funeral paperwork if I didn’t have a Gender Recognition Certificate. So I started to dig for answers while I was training, and that’s why I wrote this little guide.

The guide isn’t just for LGBTQ+ people and their families, it’s also for funeral professionals and anyone who works with LGBTQ+ folk. My hope is that it will help queer people to feel more empowered so that they can make the choices that are right for them. I hope it will also open up conversations between professionals about how we can help bereaved family members, and provide a space where they feel safe to be open about the whole identity of the person who has died.

I often think about how we can improve inclusion within the funeral profession. I think it’s important for members of staff to feel safe to be open about being queer, and to acknowledge events like LGBT History Month and Transgender Day of Remembrance. We could certainly improve the visibility of being a queer-friendly profession with signage in our places of work and on our websites. I would love to see people wear rainbow lanyards or small enamel pins as a show of solidarity.

The most important thing is to be welcoming and compassionate with the language we use, and to try and make everyone feel like they don’t have to ask “will my funeral director be queer-friendly?”. This is the last thing people need to be worrying about at such a difficult time in their lives.”

Download Ash’s Queer Funeral Guide here

Fran Hall

Less than two weeks to go now until Be Better, our fabulous event in Stratford-upon-Avon showcasing the work of some of the UK’s most renowned modern undertakers.

Be Better is an opportunity for everyone to come and hear how funerals can be beautiful and meaningful without costing the earth – how families and friends of those who have died are the real funeral directors, and how modern undertakers see their role as helping bereaved people create funerals that really matter and make a difference.

It’s a day that could change the way you look at funerals forever, and if you haven’t got a ticket yet, there are still places available. Bring your friends and family too – we can guarantee that everyone who joins us for the day will never think of funerals in the same way again. 

(And there will be the most extraordinary, unforgettable and totally Instagram-able cake courtesy of our dear friend Anna at Conjurer’s Kitchen, which we’ll cutting up and sharing in a perfect example of the impermanence of everything – and the importance of appreciating everything good in our lives.)

Details about our speakers and a link to the ticket site can be found here 

Be Better.

Be there!

Fran Hall

We thought it was about time to share something with GFG blog readers.

It’s a story that’s been running for a while, but today seems like a really good day to put it in the public domain.

This week, we made a third party observation to the Intellectual Property Office about a pending trademark application.

We would have loved to lodge a formal opposition to the trademark application, but even with the 50p piece we just found down the back of a sofa at GFG Towers, we couldn’t cobble together the money required, so we’re relying on the IPO to read our letter and apply some common sense.

Intrigued?

Read on!

Back in 2008, a young, fresh faced Charles Cowling launched the GFG on the world. The website was a labour of love, and he put days and weeks and months of unpaid work into creating a wonderful information resource for people who needed to arrange a funeral. He also started the long running GFG Blog which now boasts over 3,000 posts and opinion pieces.

Funeralworld took notice, and the GFG rapidly acquired a following of all kinds of people, with many lively discussions ensuing in comments on various posts. The website grew in popularity too, with large numbers of people visiting it for advice and information about funerals.

The media liked us too. Charles became a regular on TV and in the papers. (We’ve tried to keep the momentum going – we are frequently approached for comment on coverage of funeral related subjects, and have been referenced and quoted in The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Metro and other newspapers in recent years, along with interview coverage on BBC TV, ITV, RT, and multiple radio stations.)

Anyway, all seemed well with the world, so much so that in 2011, the Good Funeral Guide became the Good Funeral Guide CIC, a not for profit social enterprise company and was incorporated as such at Companies House. You can read our Community Interest Statement here from page 18 in the filing of ‘Incorporation’.

Our stated purpose is to ‘support, empower and represent the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK’, and we take this responsibility very seriously. If we see something that we think is wrong, or that is detrimental to the interests of dying or bereaved people, we say it. Loudly, and often.

This has gained us something of a reputation and brought us a lot of good friends who share our views, but also attracted less welcome attention in the form of occasional threats of legal action from the companies or organisations we have criticised. That’s kind of to be expected – speaking truth to power tends to annoy powerful players who have been called out for doing something we don’t think is ethical or right.

Sometimes we get approached by very nice representatives from the organisations concerned, offering us coffee or dinner or a chance to meet up and find out more about how their employers aren’t really the bad guys we portray them as.

These overtures are always flattering, but never accepted, which means we now have the reputation of being difficult and unfriendly among a certain cohort. (We’re not at all, as anyone who knows us can confirm, but we are passionate and protective about our independence; we hold it as a precious and rare thing in the arena in which we operate).

So, to cut a long story short, the GFG has jogged along since it became a CIC, just about staying afloat financially and maintaining an extraordinarily high listing on Google entirely because of the calibre of the traffic we get to our website. Unsurprisingly, we’ve never had the cash to spare for search engine optimisation, so our high visibility online is entirely due to you, dear reader!

The wonderful thing about being high up on Google is that our impartial and accurate advice is findable by everyone, and tens of thousands of people make use of it every year. We’d like to think that we’re helping to inform and empower people all over the country and as a consequence, enabling large numbers of people to get a better experience organising a funeral than they would otherwise have had.

It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we are immensely proud of the GFG and all that it stands for – and I know I speak for all of the directors of the GFG, both former and current when I say this.

There is nothing like the Good Funeral Guide, it’s unique, and irreplaceable. It’s a jewel. It is wonderful, wonderful entity to be involved with because it has integrity running through its DNA. And in today’s world, this is a rare thing.

Free, expert information for anyone needing to make arrangements for a funeral is something that is very important indeed, we are sure you’ll agree.

And were there to be an attempt to diminish the standing and reach of the Good Funeral Guide, we’re equally sure that you’ll agree that this would be a very, very bad thing.

Well, it appears that something of just this kind of nature has been underway. Whether deliberate or not. It might just be a coincidence.

Cast your eyes over the chronology and see what you think.

  • Back in 2012, a company was incorporated at Companies House on behalf of two directors, Ed Gallois and Kevin Homeyard. Funeralzone operated an internet funeral director comparison site, and many funeral directors will be familiar with it. In fact, many funeral director websites still invite visitors to ‘Read our reviews on Funeralzone’.

 

  • Over time, a number of funeral directors and others invested in shares in the company. The latest list of shareholders can be found in the Confirmation Statement filed on 5thAugust at Companies House here.

 

  • Sometime between July 2017 and July 2018, Dignity PLC invests at least £666,000 in Funeral Zone Ltd. The investment could have been circa £1 million – on page 102 of Dignity’s 2017 Annual Report and Accounts, the following reference is made ‘During the period, the Group invested £1 million in a non-controlling interest in a business’.

 

  • 1 June 2018 the Competition and Markets Authority launches a market study into the funeral sector

 

  • Between August 2018 and December 2018, Dignity increases its investment in Funeral Zone by a further £5 million. Page 120 of Dignity’s 2018 Annual Report and Accounts states: “As a result of the last investment, the Group has a 23.8 per cent investment. Funeral Zone Limited is a UK online funeral resource for funeral directors and clients and has been invested in for its intellectual property opportunities. The Group holds less than 2 per cent of the voting rights of Funeral Zone Limited but is deemed to have significant influence principally due to holding a right to appoint a board member who would hold a 25 per cent representation on the Board of Directors and therefore has the power to participate in the financial and operating policy decisions. The Group also hold a call option over a further 44.4 per cent of shares.

 

  • At the end of the period, the Group held an investment of £nil million (2017: £1.0 million) in a non-controlling interest in a business. An additional investment of £0.5 million was made in August 2018 and the fair value was deemed to be cost. Following a further investment of £4.5 million in December 2018 it was concluded that the Group had significant influence over the investment and this has now been accounted for and reclassified as investments in associated undertakings”

 

  • By January 2019 therefore, Dignity had invested £6 million in Funeral Zone Ltd. This investment is in a company described on the same page of Dignity’s 2018 Annual Reports and Accounts as not making profit: “Funeral Zone Limited had revenue of £3,000 and a total loss for the period since acquisition of £177,000. The Group’s share of loss for the period therefore amounted to £42,000 which has not been shown on the face of the Group’s consolidated income statement.

 

  • 29 November 2018 the Competition and Markets Authority publishes their Interim Report and consultation on whether to make a market investigation reference.

 

  • November 2018 Dignity initiates and funds a round table meeting at Westminster as referenced in the Chief Executive statement in the 2018 Annual Report and Accounts page 18 – ‘At the end of 2018 we initiated a round table discussion and invited the CMA and other representatives from the funeral sector, co-operating together to try and find a solution.’ This group will go on to name itselftheFuneral Service Consumer Standards Review.

 

  • 1 December 2018 a third director of Funeral Zone Ltd is appointed. Paul Webb, whose occupation is described as business consultant, joins Ed Gallois and Kevin Homeyard as a co-director. Mr. Webb’s LinkedIn account cites a current role as Business Development Executive at Funeral Homes Ltd, an ‘Acquisitive Funeral Business Group’, and, incorrectly, a second current role as Managing Director of Anderson Maguire Funeral Group Ltd (Companies House indicates Mr. Webb resigned from this position on 23rd November 2016).

 

  • 8 January 2019 a new company, ‘Funeral Arranger Limited’, was incorporated at Companies House. Ed Gallois is named as the sole shareholder and managing director.

 

  • 14 January 2019 a Change of Name notice was filed at Companies House. ‘Funeral Arranger Limited’ changes its name to ‘Funeral Guide’.

 

  • 14 January 2019 Funeral Zone Ltd applies to trademark the name ‘Funeral Guide’at the Intellectual Property Office.

 

  • 14 January 2019 the domain name funeralguide.co.uk changes hands. Formerly owned by Mark Brown and used to sell funeral plans, the new owner is Funeral Zone Ltd. (We wrote about Mr. Brown’s attempts to get his funeral plan flogging business off the ground in a blog post here back in 2017).

 

  • 28March 2019 the CMA announces a Market Investigation into the funeral sector.

 

  • 10April 2019 Funeral Zone Ltd applies to trademark the name ‘Arranger’at the IPO.

 

  • 16 April 2019 Funeral Zone Ltd applies to trademark the name ‘Memoria’ at the IPO.

 

  • 10April 2019 the IPO refuses the trademark application for the name ‘Funeral Guide’.

 

  • 14May 2019 Dignity warns of reduced profits.

 

  • 19 June 2019 First meeting of the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review Steering Committee. Independently chaired, the committee is made up of ten representatives. Of these individuals, four have business connections with Dignity:
  • Andrew Judd – Dignity Director of Funeral Operations
  • Ed Gallois, Funeral Zone Ltd (23% Dignity owned)
  • James Daley – Fairer Finance (commissioned by Dignity to produce a 2018 report into funeral plans)
  • Jon Levett – National Association of Funeral Directors (funded by membership including 826 Dignity branches)

 

  • 24 June 2019 Funeral Zone Ltd applies to trademark a figurative version including the words ‘Funeral Guide’ with the IPO.

 

  • 28June 2019 ‘Arranger’is registered as a trademark belonging to Funeral Zone at the IPO.

 

  • 5 July 2019 the figurative ‘Funeral Guide’trademark application is published on the IPO website.

 

  • 16 July 2019 an independent funeral director who had been publicly critical of the investment by Dignity into Funeral Zone receives a letter of claim ‘pursuant to the pre-action protocol for defamation claims’ from Funeral Zone’s solicitors.

 

  • 17 July 2019 the Funeral Zone comparison site announces it has changed its name to ‘Funeral Guide’. All internet traffic to funeralzone.co.uk is now redirected to www.funeralguide.co.uk. All website content and social media profiles are changed to reflect the new name and branding. Sponsored facebook posts and twitter tweets appear to publicise this news.

 

  • 17 July 2019 new Dignity ‘pay per click’ advertisements are noted at the top of the results for the search terms ‘Funeral Guide’ or ‘Good Funeral Guide’.

 

  • 18 July 2019 a series of 10 free evenings of dinner and drinks for funeral directors is announced around the country showcasing Arranger software. Arranger software is owned by Funeral Zone Ltd.

 

  • 12 August 2019 an article appears in the Times claiming ‘Funeral Directors are to be given restaurant style ratings as the industry battles claims of over-charging and inconsistent standards.’

 

  • 13 August 2019 The FSCSR Secretariat sends an e-mail, purportedly to all those involved in the FSCSR, stating that the information in the Times was incorrect.

 

  • 15 August 2019 a funeral director posts a photo on Facebook announcing ‘Pearson funeral service does it again – 5 star award’. The image is of window stickers showing five gold stars and with the text ‘We have been rated by Funeral Guide, an independent review website’.

 

For context, back in October 2016, Dignity’s share price was £28.71.

It has fallen consistently since then, closing on Friday 30thAugust 2019 down 83% on that October price,  at £4.69

We also note Funeral Guide has amassed an ENORMOUS following on social media. 

At the time of writing, they boast 12,200 followers on Twitter and a massive 52,368 followers on Facebook. SO many people choosing to follow a funeral comparison site. (For comparison, the GFG Twitter account has 3,341 followers on Twitter, and 1,281 followers on Facebook.)

Oddly, and unlike the GFG followers, those following Funeral Guide on social media are almost completely passive and silent.

Funeral Guide’s posts are rarely commented on and occasionally liked by just a handful of individuals. But to the average person looking at the Funeral Guide profiles on social media, they look like an enormously important and influential organisation with thousands of people waiting for their next post.

 

 

We know what we think about all of these shenanigans.

Which is why we have lodged our observations about the attempt to trademark a name so very similar to ours by an organisation that now cites itself as the ‘UK’s definitive online funeral resource’ with the IPO.

We’ve also dropped a note to Companies House about the registration of a company name so like our own. And passed a lot of documentation to the Competition and Markets Authority.

But ultimately, that’s about all we can do.

If we happened to have had £6 million pounds appear on our balance sheets in the last year or so, that would cover a whole lot of expensive fancy lawyers were we to try to defend our position by taking a legal route.

But sadly, 50p won’t go very far at all.

All we have is a public platform to share our concerns.

 

Fran Hall

We continue to publish the very important observations from funeral directors in response to the invitation from the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review to make contact, and have great pleasure in adding the contribution from Jo Williamson, of Albany Funerals.

 

Dear Mr Shand Smith,

It has come to my attention that on 22nd August you issued a call to non-trade association affiliated funeral directors to share their views with the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review you are currently conducting.

Sadly, as you have only allowed a very short timescale for busy funeral directors to respond (8 days – was this an afterthought?), I have missed the deadline but I would still like to take this opportunity to put forward my views.

We are independent funeral directors based in Kent, in our 10th year of trading.  For the first 7 years we were members of SAIF but were left feeling largely unsupported and unchecked, and therefore made the decision to remain non-affiliated for a few years.  However, we have recently begun the process of joining the NAFD, mainly due to fierce local competition and we felt that we might be viewed as lacking ‘legitimacy’ if we were not members of an association, and there is no other real alternative. 

I cannot agree, however,  that I feel represented by these organisations ‘seated at the table’, as in my experience they do not always seem to be led by the interests of the bereaved person, or the person who has died, but more so in protecting their members, whose practices are sometimes questionable at the very least. 

Although I welcome any initiative to improve standards, I do feel confused that this is being run simultaneously with the Government CMA review, which is a completely independent review as opposed to an ‘industry initiative’ which yours claims to be, and I would also be curious as to how this will be implemented in conjunction with the findings and recommendations of the CMA report?

I have also looked at the Scottish Government Code of Practice Consultation in detail and was alarmed to see that the proposed regulations do not offer any real solution to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerability of bereaved people and the lack of transparency of the funeral industry, which are the two main areas of concern highlighted by the CMA. 

Moreover, some of the regulations proposed fall incredibly short, for example, although the Scottish Government ‘believes that the use of refrigeration is a critical element of caring for a deceased person in a dignified, appropriate and respectful manner’, they concur with SAIF’s recommendations that a mere ratio of 1:50 is acceptable (1 refrigerated space per 50 funerals)! 

This does not fill me with confidence going forward, particularly as your working groups are heavily represented by these trade associations and large corporations, that obviously benefit from such loose and misleading regulations.  It is very clear to me that any regulation of the industry should be entirely independent and not decided by stakeholders.  For a start an independent ombudsman should be reinstated so that when things do go wrong, consumers have somewhere to turn to.

My recommendation would be the following: to focus on the protecting the bereaved and their families/friends and not the funeral director

Instead of regulations, I believe it would be more productive and successful to produce an ethical code of conduct.  In 7 years, SAIF did not once inspect my mortuary or any of our funeral processes or procedures.  The inspection would consist of a cosy chat in the office and the advice to ensure that a ‘no smoking’ sign is displayed somewhere visible. 

Because of this lack of scrutiny, it has become easy for funeral directors to act to suit their own interests.  These are a few examples of things that happen ROUTINELY in many businesses, that we see and hear about on a DAILY basis:

  • families given funeral dates 4/5 weeks after death to suit the diaries of the funeral directors
  • routine embalming (often without permission) to avoid having to use refrigeration
  • moving bodies about without permission from families to off-site storage units or for viewing purposes
  • inadequate or no refrigeration at premises
  • embalming taking place with inadequate facilities (bodies on the floor)
  • overselling of funeral products
  • huge mark ups on products
  • funeral directors giving funeral quotes based on the type of car the consumer has
  • tacit agreements with care homes/hospices to provide services for free in return for referrals
  • limited time set for funeral arrangements (sometimes 40 mins)
  • rewards/penalties for funeral plan or memorial selling
  • clothes intended to dress the person who has died placed in the coffin still in the bag presented by the family
  • THE LIST COULD GO ON…..

I can only hope that as you are independent as chair of this committee, that my letter might lead you explore some of these concerns and take them seriously.

Thank you for your time,

Kind regards,

 

Jo Williamson

 

Fran Hall

Today we have the pleasure of publishing a letter from Jo Vassie, of Higher Ground Family Funerals, which was sent to the Competition and Markets Authority a few weeks ago.

We thought that the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review might also find it interesting reading. 

 

Dear Sirs,

I’m am writing to express my thoughts and worries regarding the new legislation for Scotland and am concerned that similar will follow for the England.

I am 70 and still fully occupied with work along with my husband and son. We opened a natural burial ground 10 years ago, very soon individuals were securing their plots for eventually and very many asked me if I could deal with their funeral when the time came. The answer had to be no.

Once our son joined us in the business, this became a possibility and so we set to and converted a farm building into a beautiful facility, giving us a meeting room, visiting room, mortuary and garaging for our vehicle, which is not a hearse but an adapted people carrier ( work done by son)

This has been the most incredible experience; we have received very many emails and letters of thanks from our families. We have no qualifications, we just treat people as we would wish to be treated, this includes the family arranging the funeral and of course the person who has died.

Locally we have St Margaret’s Hospice, who last year caused quite a stir when they entered into the funeral world. Their start-up costs were ridiculous and so the venture has made a huge loss and it is thought that this has had a knock on effect that they are closing their inpatient beds in their Yeovil hospice.

I am very concerned that legislation will be brought in for training and qualifications – please tell me how this will ensure that everything is exemplary in funeral homes? 

I have no objections in my premises being inspected and chose to be a recommended funeral provider by The Good Funeral Guide, this just gives the public an independent opinion. But the best recommendation comes from families whom we have served.

If it becomes compulsory for training and belonging to SAIF or NAFD, it will increase set up costs for independent people like ourselves and will not prevent bad practice.

The net result is the public will be the losers.

Kind regards,

Joanna Vassie