Fran Hall

The Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into the funeral market is steadily progressing, with 22 working papers published since the end of January.

It is clear that the 25-strong team working on the Market Investigation are doing a detailed and thorough job as they forensically analyse the huge amount of information they have obtained and publish their findings.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to re-shape the funeral market, and we strongly recommend that all readers of this blog find the time to share their views with the CMA as the emerging thoughts on potential remedies are published.

The problem is finding the time to do so – it’s dense reading and there are understandably deadlines by which the CMA is asking for responses.

The deadline for comment on the first batch of 13 working papers is this Thursday, 27th February, and to help anyone who feels that they should be offering their views but who just doesn’t have time to read through the almost 600 pages in the first set of working papers, we thought we’d share the most important points on which comment is invited.

Bear with us – this is a long post as we’ve copied and pasted directly from the Quality Regulation Remedies and the Information and Transparency Remedies papers so that readers can access the salient points and questions easily – we recommend reading through these two papers before responding to the questions.

Just copy and paste all the words in italics below and then add your thoughts on each point – once complete, please send to funerals@cma.gov.uk 

This is your opportunity to have your voice heard.

The Quality Regulation Remedies document poses some potential options that the CMA is considering:

Possible quality regulation remedies

(a)  Clear requirements for funeral directors in the form of, for example, statutory minimum standards.

(b)  Effective monitoring and enforcement of standards through, for example, a statutory licensing and inspection regime.

(c)  An appropriate body to monitor and enforce standards.

(d)  The collection and dissemination of information to customers on the quality of services provided by funeral directors.

The paper goes on to explain the reasons for the suggested remedies, and poses a number of questions:

Our initial assessment of the quality of services provided by funeral directors to customers suggests that:

(a)  During the purchase process and delivery of the funeral, customers can observe a range of quality aspects but care of the deceased, which is of considerable importance to customers, is largely unobservable, and customers vary rarely compare quality across providers;

(b)  together, this is likely to weaken the incentive for funeral directors to offer high quality in relation to those services that customers cannot easily observe and assess (ie back of house standards);

(c)  whilst funeral directors may monitor and invest in the quality of some of their services, we have not seen strong evidence of back of house quality responding to customer preferences, or that good quality provision requires high costs and prices; and

(d)  in relation to back of house quality standards, the evidence available suggests that many funeral directors provide an acceptable standard. However, there is a widespread view in the industry that some funeral directors do not.

Remedy selection

Do you agree with our proposal to focus quality regulation on the services provided by funeral directors or do you think we should also regulate the quality of services provided by crematoria operators? Please explain your answer.

Do you agree with our proposal to focus quality regulation on back of house standards? Please explain your answer.

What are your views on the likely effectiveness and proportionality of the remedies outlined in this working paper in addressing our initial concerns?

Are there any other potential remedies that we have not considered in this working paper that may address our initial concerns (as set out in our working paper on the quality of back of house funeral director services)? Please explain what those remedies are and why they would be more effective than, or suitable in addition to, our proposed remedies.

Would a predominantly outcomes-based or a rules-based regulatory model (see paragraphs 39 to 40) be more appropriate for monitoring and upholding the back of house standards of funeral directors? Please explain your answer.

Which of the services provided by funeral directors should be included under the scope of any quality regulatory regime, including statutory minimum standards, and why? We are particularly interested in your views on the regulatory standards set out in Table 1 and the following specific issues:

(a)  Is refrigeration necessary for the appropriate care of the deceased?

 (b)  Is the ratio of one refrigeration space for every 50 deceased persons taken into the care of the funeral director on average per year (as proposed in the draft Code of Practice for Funeral Directors in Scotland) an appropriate ratio? If not, what is?

(c)  Is it appropriate to require that each deceased must be stored individually in separate compartments within the unit (as proposed in the draft Code of Practice for Funeral Directors in Scotland)?

 (d)  Should training and/or education be mandatory? Please explain your answer. In the event that training and/or education was made mandatory, please comment on:

(i) Which members of staff require formal education and to what level (ie A Levels (or equivalent) or a degree or professional qualification) and to what extent can formal education be substituted by experience or other forms of training?

ii) Is it necessary to create a nationally accredited professional education programme or allow funeral directors to choose from the currently available qualifications?

 (iii) Should there be a number of specified hours of training, and any other form of CPD, that staff should be required to complete each year, or should staff or their employers self-assess their professional development needs?

 (iv) Are there any other requirements that should be imposed on staff, owners and controllers of funeral directors to ensure their technical and professional competence (eg age, conduct or experience restrictions)?

 (e) Is there a need to establish an independent ADR scheme and/or complaints adjudicator in addition to the funeral directors’ own complaint handling and customer redress?

Who is best placed to monitor and enforce compliance with quality regulation?

 (a)  Is a single UK-wide body or a different body in each part of the UK more appropriate, and how should either arrangement take account of the emerging regulatory regime in Scotland? Please explain your answer.

 (b)  What role, if any, should the existing trade associations (ie NAFD and SAIF) and other relevant organisations, such as the Good Funeral Guide, play in relation to the quality regulatory regime? Please explain your answer.

Should a licensing and inspection regime (see paragraphs 52 to 73) apply to individuals or businesses or both, and why? If both, what should be the respective obligations of individuals and businesses?

What considerations should be taken into account when designing any quality regulatory regime to enable providers of all sizes to comply with that regime, and without deterring innovation, entry and expansion?

 (a)  What would be the likely costs of quality regulation to funeral directors? This includes the costs of implementing any changes necessary to comply with the regulation and the costs of demonstrating ongoing compliance with the regime.

(b)  What would be the likely costs of implementing and running the regime and how should this be funded?

Are there any elements of quality that require immediate attention prior to the establishment of a quality regulatory regime?

Do you think we should tailor any aspects of quality regulation to reflect any differences in funeral service provision (and the current statutory regimes) across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland?

What information on the quality of services provided by funeral directors should be collected and disseminated to customers to enable them to assess and compare funeral directors?

 

The Information and Transparency Remedies paper identifies seven possible remedies and poses questions on each of them:

Possible information and transparency remedies

Invitation to comment

Our emerging thinking on remedies is without prejudice to the final outcome of our assessment on whether there are any AECs (adverse effects on competition) in relation to the services provided by funeral directors and crematoria operators and any detrimental effects on customers resulting from those AECs.

We welcome views from parties on the remedies described below, and the relative attractiveness of the different approaches to achieving their aims. We invite parties’ views on the following:

(a)  What are the expected costs to funeral directors and/or crematoria of implementing the remedy and reporting compliance?

(b)  How should compliance with the remedy be demonstrated and how should this be supervised by the relevant bodies?

(c)  Should any remedies be time-limited? If so, why?

(d)  Should we consider a firm size threshold for any of the remedies discussed here? And if so, what should that threshold be, and why?

(e)  Are there any relevant customer benefits in either market that may be lost or reduced by the implementation of these measures and that we should consider as part of our assessment of any remedy package?

(f)  Are there any other remedies that may equally or more effectively improve the availability and transparency of information to consumers?

 

Remedy 1 – Price transparency and comparability

There are several options (or combinations of options) that could achieve the objectives listed above that we think are worth exploring in more detail. We could, for example, require funeral directors and crematoria operators to:

(a)  make their prices available online, over the telephone, or in branch (ie before the arrangement meeting with a potential customer).

(b)  provide prices to potential customers at their first point of contact (whether in branch, over the telephone or online) rather than upon request by the customer.

(c)  adopt the same price reporting template whether they sell directly to customers (whether in branch, over the telephone or online) or through a third-party platform.

(d)  provide disaggregated pricing and service information, such as:

(i)  specific component prices (eg car, collection, transport and storage of the deceased, coffin, embalming, etc) or a package of specific components (eg those components that could be mandatory); and

(ii)  disbursement costs (eg celebrant, flowers, etc), in order to convey typical total costs (even when these disbursements are nil, such as for ministers belonging to the Church of Scotland), including information and general advice on a typical range of disbursements.

(e)  offer the same price across all of their sales channels; and

(f)  facilitating all of the above by, for instance, establishing an independent platform that could allow customers to compare providers and build their own funeral package by selecting individual elements. We discuss this part of the remedy in more detail below.

Invitation to comment on Remedy 1

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  How can we best facilitate shopping around and increase customer awareness of total funeral costs and local price differentials?

(b)  How can we enable better comparison of funeral directors’ prices and quality of services?

(c)  How can we better prepare the customer for the arrangement meeting and make them aware of all the options offered by the funeral director, including low-cost options?

(d)  How can we give customers a clearer idea of the final cost (early on in the process of choosing a funeral director and before the arrangement meeting)?

(e)  How can we make the platform most useful for customers how can we ensure that it is used by as many customers as possible?

(f)  Should funeral directors and crematoria operators be required to adopt a standardised methodology for presenting pricing and service data as an alternative to the platform?

(g)  Should crematoria availability be incorporated into the platform?

(h)  What will be the likely costs of this remedy?

(i)  Will this remedy give rise to any potential unintended consequences?

  

Remedy 2 – Intermediaries to (more effectively) inform customers of their options and encourage shopping around

The CMA could develop guidance or ask a third party, such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC), to develop guidance to support intermediaries in their discussions with the bereaved about funeral planning. These discussions could take place when an individual enters a care home or hospice, or when death is anticipated or has just occurred. The guidance could include the following information:

(a) Explaining to the bereaved that they can change funeral director after the deceased has been collected from the place of death and that they are not obliged to remain with the funeral director that collected the deceased.

(b)  A checklist of questions that customers may wish to ask the funeral director.

(c)  Funeral directors and crematoria in the local area (and possibly their prices).

(d)  Information on the platform.

Invitation to comment on this remedy

We invite views on the following questions:

(a) Are there intermediaries other than the CQC who provide, or are well placed to provide, information on funeral planning to those close to death or to the bereaved?

(b) Are other ways in which funeral directors and crematoria operators can raise awareness of the platform other than providing information on their websites and promotional material and discussing the platform at the arrangement meeting?

(c) Are there alternatives to raising awareness of the platform to general advertising and the use of intermediaries?

(d) What are the likely costs of this remedy?

(e) Will this remedy give rise to any potential unintended consequences?

 

Remedy 3 – Funeral planning awareness before the point of need

The CMA could recommend to Government to invest in and run media campaigns and produce literature about funeral planning, as well as raising awareness of the platform described under Remedy 1.

The CMA could also recommend that local authorities, specifically those individuals or teams responsible for bereavement services, raise awareness about funeral planning on their website and through wider outreach work in their local areas.

The CMA could also work with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and other similar organisations to develop information and guidance on funeral planning.

Invitation to comment on this remedy

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  Are there particular circumstances prior to the point of need at which consumers are likely to be receptive to the idea of preparing for their funeral or that of a loved one?

(b)  What interventions (if any) are likely to encourage funeral planning and how might they be delivered?

(c)  Should this remedy target particular types of consumers?

(d)  What are the likely costs of the remedy?

(e)  Will this remedy give rise to any potential unintended consequences?

 

Remedy 4 – Mandatory ‘reflection period’

We could require funeral directors to allow customers a ‘reflection period’, which could take place either before or after the customer signs the contract with their chosen funeral director. We could also require funeral directors to allow customers to choose a different provider or different services from the same provider at minimal or no additional cost.

Customers do not currently have the same statutory cancellation rights for an ‘on-premises contract’, such as when a contract is concluded in the funeral directors’ office.

The potential ‘reflection’ period remedy could take one of the following forms:

(a)  impose a mandatory pause or ‘reflection’ period between an arrangement meeting on-premises and before signing any contract; or

(b)  have cancellation rights for on-premise contracts in line with the cancellation rights for off-premise and distance contracts described above.

Invitation to comment on this remedy

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  Is a ‘reflection period’ an effective mechanism for encouraging customers to ensure that they choose a funeral director that best meets their needs?

 (b)  If so, when should this ‘’reflection period take place?

(i)  After getting information on funeral options from a funeral director on its premises and before signing the contract?

(ii)  after signing the contract in an arrangement meeting but having cancellation rights for a certain period of time afterwards? or

(iii)  another suitable time?

(c) What are the likely costs of this remedy?

(d) Will this remedy give rise to any potential unintended consequences?

 

Remedy 5 – Potential cap on the level of charges incurred for the collection, transportation and storage of the deceased

Invitation to comment on this remedy

To reduce this potential barrier to switching, we could set a cap on the level of charges that a funeral director can levy for the collection, transportation and storage of the deceased to recover the costs that the funeral director has incurred prior to the customer switching to an alternative funeral director (or the costs incurred if the customer chooses not to switch). We envisage that such a cap could apply to all funeral directors (and not a subset of funeral directors) to ensure that this possible barrier to switching is addressed across the whole sector.

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  Will the imposition of a cap on the collection, transportation and storage of the deceased encourage more customers to switch funeral directors after having reflected on their original choice of funeral director?

 (b)  How should the cap be calculated?

(i)  Should the charge for collection and transport reflect the distance covered by the funeral director or represent an average cost?

 (ii)  Should there a daily charge for the storage of the deceased or an average charge for storage, which reflects the average length of time that the deceased is typically stored?

 (c)  Are there other approaches to setting a potential cap on charges levied by funeral directors for the collection, transportation and storage of the deceased (other than cost-based approaches) that the CMA should consider?

(d)  What are the likely costs of this remedy?

(e)  Could this remedy give rise to any unintended consequences?

 

Remedy 6 – Managing conflicts of interest

We could impose prohibition of certain forms of payment, such as:

(a) partnership agreements with hospices or care homes which involve direct referral payments when the hospice or care home facilitates an introduction to a funeral director business; and

(b) commissions to employees for upselling funeral packages

Invitation to comment on this remedy

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  Are there any other ways to eliminate conflicts of interest that may adversely impact the quality of service provided by funeral director to customers?

(b)  Are there any other types of inducements or payments that should be captured by this remedy?

(c)  What are the likely costs of this remedy?

Remedy 7 – Disclosure of business ownership and other commercial relationships

The CMA could require funeral directors and crematoria operators to disclose their business ownership structure. This remedy could apply to branches that form part of a larger funeral director business, so that customers are aware of whether the funeral director is part of a larger business or is, instead, an independent business. This information could be disclosed on premises and websites and any other promotional material.

The CMA could also require funeral directors and crematoria to inform customers of any changes in ownership, such as when an independent funeral director is acquired by a larger multi-site operator, so that customers are aware of the current ownership structure.

The CMA could also require funeral directors to disclose when they recommend a crematorium that is owned by the same company as the funeral director business, in order to address the presence of vertical integration in the funerals sector.

Invitation to comment on this remedy

We invite views on the following questions:

(a)  What potential harm could the non-disclosure of business interests and other commercial relationship cause customers?

 (b)  What business relationships and other commercial relationships should be disclosed to customers?

(c)  How should such interests and relationship be disclosed to customers?

(d)  What are the likely costs of this remedy?

 (e)  Will this remedy give rise to any potential unintended consequences?

Fran Hall

Those additional observations on the FSCSR consultation we mentioned in our previous post this week:

1. At the GFG, while we welcome any improvements in the funeral industry Codes of Practice, we despair at the length of time it has taken NAFD and SAIF to come up with revisions to existing industry codes to make them remotely fit for purpose.

Ten years ago, on 14 June 2010, Charles wrote a blog post ‘Chasing the money’: 

Here’s an excerpt:

“In 2002 Helen Parker, editor of Which, commented: “We want to see all funeral directors in the UK signed up to a standard code of practice. The code should be monitored and enforced by an independent body.” 

In response, Alan Slater, CEO of the NAFD gave this assurance: “We are currently mid-way through the process of improving our code … Once finalised, the new code will be sent to the OFT.” 

The NAFD’s Slater said this in 2002. 

But as of February 2009, the NAFD code of practice has not been approved by OFT. In fact, none of the funeral trades associations’ codes of practice have been approved by OFT. Approval would mean that the codes of practice would be blessed by the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, offering a much greater degree of assurance to consumers.”

So, in 2002, in response to public criticism, the NAFD showed willing to improve their code of practice. 18 years later, they are still working on it.

NB It’s not clear if the quote from Helen Parker was made before or after the role of Funeral Ombudsman was axed by the funeral trade bodies – that happened in 2002 too.

2. The FSCSR appears to be recommending that the two funeral trade associations should be an integral part of a proposed interim regulator before a statutory body is set up. (Details on page 10 of the FSCSR consultation document. It’s entitled ‘Recommendation that government should work with the industry to establish an interim regulatory body’.)

In brief, having recommended that a regulatory body be appointed to regulate the funeral sector, recognising that there would likely be a significant delay in bringing forward the necessary legislative work, the FSCSR is ‘minded to recommend’ that the two funeral trade associations, NAFD & SAIF work with the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards to create an ‘independent’ interim regulator. Albeit one without a mandatory remit or statutory powers.

Um, that will be a big NO from us.

The role of a trade association is to represent their members’ interests.

We believe that this role is incompatible with the role of a regulator, interim or not. 

And we’re not the only ones. Remember the Funeral Ombudsman, whose role was axed by the funeral industry almost twenty years ago?

The late, highly respected consumer academic lawyer, lecturer and author Professor Geoffrey Woodroffe was appointed Funeral Ombudsman in 1994. His tenure lasted until 2002, during which time there were two critical reports about the funeral industry by the Office of Fair Trading and a third damning report by the Consumers Association.

Let’s hear what Professor Woodroffe thought about the involvement of trade associations:

Ombudsmen are impartial. How on earth can anyone expect regulation processes set up by trade bodies to be impartial and fair? People are extremely vulnerable when they are arranging funerals for relatives or partners. Independent regulation is vital.”

Fran Hall

It’s a busy time in funeralworld.

Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority uploaded a whole suite of working papers and other documents (21 in total) to the website providing information about their ongoing Market Investigation into funerals, seeking comment on their findings so far by 27thFebruary.

On the same day, with impeccable timing, the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review* published the first of their own consultation papers and requested feedback within a similar timeframe to the CMA, with a deadline of midnight on March 1st.

This is a surprising coincidence, given that the original FSCSR indicative timetable last July indicated that their documents would have been drafted, approved and signed off by October / November last year, with recommendations made to government bodies, industry bodies and policy makers at the same time. All out there in the public domain, months before the CMA published their working papers.

Instead, the timetable for publication of the FSCSR draft documents has slipped by several months, resulting in a confusing juxtaposition of two sets of publications on standards in the funeral industry, both seeking comment from any interested parties within the next four weeks.

Here at the GFG we have limited time to read and digest reams of information, and we presume that busy funeral directors and others with interest in the subject will feel the same. There is a huge amount of essential reading in the 20+ CMA working papers and providing considered comment will take significant commitment on our part. Without question, our priority for all of our free reading time is the once-in-a-generation opportunity offered by the CMA investigation into funerals.

The CMA has the authority to recommend remedies to issues they may identify, and have already set out a range of possible remedies that may be effective in addressing possible competition issues they may find in the provision of funeral director services at the point of need:

(a) The introduction of a quality regulation regime;(b) measures to promote greater information transparency;
(c) price controls; and
(d) local authority procurement of funeral director services.

One can almost hear the collective sharp intake of breath as the implications of these potential remedies sink in across funeralworld.

If you’re someone interested in the potential changes that are on the horizon, then we urge you to find the time to read through the CMA papers, and send your thoughts by e-mail to funerals@cma.gov.uk

As for the FSCSR consultation? Well, if you’d like to help the trade associations get their house in order, then they’d very much like to hear your thoughts. We will be focusing on responding to the CMA and don’t have capacity to give comprehensive feedback to the FSCSR as well.

Although we may have a couple of observations.

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!