The Competition and Markets Authority has today published their Provisional Decision Report in the latest stage of their Funerals Market Investigation.
It’s a long read – 472 pages in fact, with appendices being published next week, but you can read the short summary version here.
In essence, the CMA has provisionally found that the markets for funeral director services and crematoria services are not functioning well, and a number of remedies are proposed (delightfully described in the report as ‘sunlight remedies, shining a light on the pricing and back of house practices of the sector’).
Here they are:
‘We are proposing that a number of such measures would be implemented by the CMA as soon as possible after publication of our final report. Under these proposals:
(a) The CMA would actively monitor firms’ revenues and sales volumes in the funerals sector, in order to identify, and where possible, address, any harmful behaviour. The CMA would also publish an annual review of its monitoring activity. To support these activities, we would require certain funeral directors and all crematoria operators to provide specific financial information to the CMA.
(b) We would require funeral directors and crematorium operators to publish price information to support customers in accessing and assessing the price of funeral services. In addition, we would require funeral directors to disclose to customers, information relating to the ownership of the business, any business or financial interests in a price comparison website for the sector and payments or donations to hospitals, care homes and any other similar institutions.
(c) We would prohibit certain arrangements, payments and inducements made by funeral directors with/to third parties such as care homes as well as the solicitation of business through coroner and police contracts, in order to protect vulnerable customers from being channelled towards a given funeral director that may not fully meet their needs.
We propose to make a recommendation to the UK government and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales relating to the regulation of the quality provided by funeral directors. This would involve, in the first instance, the establishment of an independent inspection regime and registration of all funeral directors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.’
Price control is not included at this time due to the impact of Covid-19 on both the sector and the CMA’s ability to collect data. Importantly, the possibility of price control is still on the table though, with the CMA proposing to come back to the subject of funeral prices with a potential supplementary market investigation to resolve pricing issues identified once the impact of the pandemic has resolved to a steady state.
It seems that investors in shares in Dignity PLC might not have noticed this caveat, as Dignity’s share price inexplicably soared today – presumably in giddy relief that the dreaded price cap was not on the list of CMA remedies. Dignity’s Non-Exec Chairman, Clive Whiley and Finance Director Steve Whittern will be chuffed with this upward movement, having purchased 82,000 shares between them in the last few months while the share price was sub £2.90 – it closed today at £6.34, so their combined shares are now worth £1,661,168.76 rather than the £867,266 they were worth on Monday this week…..
Anyway, newly enriched Dignity directors aside, Dignity shareholders would do well to sit down and plough through the entire Report, as it does not make comfortable reading with regard to the ‘Big 3’ (Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare and Funeral Partners). There are many polite rebuttals of arguments put forward by Big 3 representatives on various aspects of the investigation. It seems that the CMA team were unconvinced by the claims that higher prices reflect higher standards, or indeed that higher prices had any justification at all.
The full report will take a lot of reading and digesting, but in essence the findings validate everything that the GFG has been calling for for years. Transparency of pricing. Transparency of commercial activities. Prohibition of ‘backhanders’ or other ‘arrangements’ with third parties. Full disclosure of involvement with price comparison websites or donations to care homes, hospices or hospitals. An inspector of funerals. And a funeral directors register.
We are delighted that the CMA has been so forthright and comprehensive in their investigations and their findings. It’s clear that the team saw past the protestations of powerful players with the money to pay for expensive reports and fancy presentations, and found for the bereaved people of this country. And we are so, so proud that the Good Funeral Guide and many of our supporters and recommended funeral directors have helped play a part in this hugely important moment of change in the funeral world.
Everyone who wrote to the CMA with their observations or personal accounts, everyone who invited the Investigation team to visit them and find out about their work, everyone who participated in our ‘progressive funeral directors round table discussion’ with CMA Project Director Stephanie Canet and her colleagues last year – all of you have played such an important part in helping to change the landscape of funerals for the better.