Back to Top

Finally!!

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.

Thank you. 

Not good enough

An official government digital ‘Bereavement Leaflet’ document has just appeared, purporting to provide ‘Information for the Bereaved’ for people in England during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It can be found here.

It’s not a great document to be honest. It doesn’t give very much useful information, but what it does state very clearly is “A first step will be to choose a funeral director. You can find an industry-inspected local funeral director via the following websites:

The National Association of Funeral Directors: funeral-directory.co.uk

The National Society of Allied and independent Funeral Directors: SAIF.org.uk/members-search’

That’s it.

It seems that the government are steering anyone who has been bereaved during the current disastrous situation straight to a member of one of the two trade associations. If a company is not a member of either NAFD or SAIF then according to this document they’re probably not worth contacting.

It seems that notwithstanding the market investigation by the CMA into the funeral industry that has so far been less than complimentary about large corporate companies who all belong to a trade association, the government are now suggesting bereaved people choose a funeral director who is a member of a funeral director trade association. On the premise that they are ‘industry-inspected’.

Just for the record, we think this is wrong.

Some of the best funeral directors feel that neither trade association represents them sufficiently well. Many of these are companies recommended by the Good Funeral Guide who have been through our accreditation process.

You can read a series of guest posts from some superb funeral directors outlining why they choose not to belong to either trade association here.

One more thing

It feels almost ridiculous to be asking readers of this blog to find the time to read and respond to the second set of working papers from the Competition and Markets Authority at this time of national crisis.

We’re fully aware that all sensible funeral directors are likely to be far too busy making certain that they and their staff are prepared to cope with the impact of Covid-19. (So far, there has been no official advice for the funeral sector other than the information we reported on in this blog post last week, but we understand that those who have been monitoring the situation in other countries are taking far higher level precautions).

We are, however, very conscious of the importance of this second consultation by the CMA, so for anyone who can possibly make time to send their observations to CMA team, we are sharing the questions below.

As with our other recent post on the CMA consultation, you can simply copy and paste the questions and then add your answers

Comments should be sent by email to funerals@cma.gov.uk by 19 March 2020.

The updated overview of key research and analysis can be found here.

Remedy options for regulating the price of funeral director services at the point of need

Working paper can be found here.

Table 1 (shown below) describes some possible elements which could be included in a benchmark package. We consider that these are the most commonly purchased funeral products and services. 

Table 1

Suggested benchmark funeral package for consultation

Collection and transportation of the deceased (no time restrictions)

Storage of the deceased

Care of the deceased

Customer advice and support (may also be referred to as funeral director contact)

Legal and administrative services (including completing required documentation, liaison with third parties such as coroner)

Managing arrangements relating to burial, cremation, cemetery, church, ceremony, officiant

Date and time flexibility for funeral service

Arranging payment of third-party disbursements

Viewing of the deceased (suggested during the hours 8am – 6pm)

Dressing the deceased in their own clothes or gown

Provision of a ‘standard’ coffin

Provision of hearse and personnel

Choice of route for funeral profession (within defined radius)

One limousine

Embalming

We would welcome views on this proposed benchmark package, in particular:

(a)  Are there are any products or services which are not currently included in the suggested benchmark package (Table 1) which should be included? What is the evidence to support this view?

(b)  Are there are any products or services which have been included in the suggested benchmark package (Table 1) which should not be included? What is the evidence to support this view?

(c)  Do you consider that there is evidence to suggest a lower or declining demand for any products or services in the suggested benchmark package, in particular we seek views on the use of limousine/s and embalming?

d)  What is your view on including or excluding time-based restrictions on certain services, for example should collection, transportation of the deceased be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week or should viewing of the deceased at the place of storage/funeral director’s premises be limited to “office hours” such as 8am to 6pm. Also, should there be any restrictions on the route for the funeral procession?

(e)  Are there any funeral director providers for whom the suggested “standard” benchmark funeral package (Table 1) would not be a suitable product/service to offer, for example a funeral director offering highly specialised or unique services?

(f) We are also considering whether an alternative approach, in particular a cap on average revenue per funeral, could be effective in addressing any AECs and customer detriment, whilst also addressing unintended market distortions such as the risk of a focal point for prices. Do you think this could be a better approach for price regulation?

We would welcome views regarding how might the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 interact with any price control regulation implemented by the CMA, or a new regulator and whether the price level of any price- controlled package should be set as one price across the UK.

We would welcome views on the proposals outlined in this working paper and any other comments on the proposed price control remedy. In particular we would welcome comments on the following questions:

Aims and approach of a price control remedy

(a)  Do you agree that the introduction of a price control likely to be an effective solution to remedy any AECs and any resultant, or expected, detrimental effects on customers should they be found in this market investigation?

(b)  Do you agree that the introduction of a price control remedy to be a necessary and proportionate solution (paragraph 19) to remedy any AECs and any resultant, or expected, detrimental effects on customers should they be found in this market investigation?

Price control design considerations

 (c) Do you agree that all funeral directors should be subject to a price control remedy (paragraph 38)?

(d)  Do you think there is a requirement to limit the application of any price control regulation to exempt certain providers and if so, what should the criteria for exemption be (paragraph 39)?

(e)  Do you agree or disagree with the suggestion that a maximum price could be applied to a benchmark package of products and services (paragraph 59)?

(f)  Do you agree with the suggested products and services within the proposed “standard” benchmark funeral package (paragraph 60)?

(g)  Are there any funeral director providers for whom the suggested “standard” benchmark funeral package (paragraph 60(e)) would not be a suitable product/service to offer, for example a funeral director offering highly specialised or unique services?

(h)  Do you consider that there is evidence to suggest a lower or declining demand for any products/services in the suggested benchmark package, in particular we seek views on the use of limousine/s and embalming (paragraph 47)?

(i)  What is your view on including or excluding time-based restrictions on certain services, for example should collection, transportation of the deceased be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week or should viewing of the deceased at the place of storage/funeral director’s premises be limited to “office hours” such as 8am to 6pm. Also, should there be any restrictions on the route for the funeral procession (paragraph 60(d))?

(j)  Do you consider that we should include a requirement for cost reflectivity for all disbursement costs within any price control regulation? If not, are there particular disbursement costs, for example cremation costs, which should be included (paragraph 57)?

(k)  Alternatively, do you think that price control cap on average revenue per funeral, would be as effective in addressing any AECs and customer detriment, whilst also addressing unintended market distortions such as the risk of a focal point for prices (paragraph60(f))?

(l)  Do you think the same approach to the design of a price control is required across the UK, or whether there should be any variation at a regional or devolved nation level (paragraph 69(a))?

(m)  Do you think that one maximum price should be set for a benchmark package across the whole of the UK? Alternatively, what are your views on setting different regional or devolved nation prices (paragraph 69(b))?

(n)  What are your views on the interaction of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 with the proposal of price regulation in the UK (paragraph 74)?

Implementation, monitoring and enforcement

(o)  What is your assessment of whether the option of setting a maximum price for a benchmark package of products/services (paragraph 60) is capable of effective;

(i) implementation?

(ii) monitoring?

(iii) enforcement?

(p)  Do you think that compliance reporting requirements to the CMA or a regulator, should be the same for all funeral directors (paragraph94(b))?

(q)  Do you have any views or suggestions on designing and implementing an effective communication strategy to ensure that consumers, funeral directors and relevant third parties understand their rights and responsibilities if price regulation is introduced in the funeral industry? In addition, how could we ensure that a benchmark package is sufficiently promoted and visible to consumers (paragraph 94(c))?

(r)  What preparation would be required and how long do you think funeral directors might require in order to prepare for the implementation of any price control regulation?

(s)  What would be the likely costs of implementation, monitoring and enforcement for funeral directors?

(t)  Do you consider an initial duration of five to seven years is an appropriate period for the implementation of a price control remedy and achievement of its aims (paragraph 24)?

(u)  Do you consider there to be other risks or options for mitigation which we have not considered (paragraphs 75-77)?

Please provide any other comments or questions.

 

Remedy options for regulating the price of crematoria services

Working paper can be found here.

We would welcome views on our current thinking that any price regulation in the form of a maximum price would apply to all crematoria operators in the same way.

We welcome views on the approach to defining the scope of products and services included in the benchmark package, in particular:

a)  Are there are any products or services which are not currently included in the suggested benchmark package which should be included? What is the evidence to support this view?

b)  Are there are any products or services which have been included in the suggested benchmark package which should not be included? What is the evidence to support this view?

c)  What is your view on time-based restrictions relating to the benchmark package, for example the length of the chapel slot?

We welcome views on how the maximum price could be determined and reviewed, in particular:

a)  Do you consider that using pricing information from the sector is a sensible approach for designing a price cap for crematoria? Do you think a rate of return approach would be more appropriate in this sector?

b)  Do you have any views on the design variants we have outlined above (for example, whether the price level of any price regulated package should be set as one price across the UK, whether we should make allowances for certain higher cost areas such as London or whether any cost base should be assessed on a crematoria by crematoria basis or otherwise)?

c)  Do you have any suggestions as to the criteria we should use to set the benchmark for the initial level of the price cap?

d)  Do you have any views on how the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 should interact with any price regulation implemented by the CMA, or a new regulator?

We are also interested in responses to the following questions relating to implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the price control:

h) What is your assessment of whether the option of setting a maximum price for a benchmark package of products/services (paragraph 49) is capable of effective;

  • implementation?
  • monitoring?
  • enforcement?

i)  Do you think that compliance reporting requirements to the CMA or a regulator, should be the same for all crematoria?

j)  Do you have any views or suggestions on designing and implementing an effective communication strategy to ensure that consumers, crematoria and relevant third parties understand their rights and responsibilities if price regulation is introduced? In addition, how could we ensure that a benchmark package is sufficiently promoted and visible to consumers (paragraph 105.b)?

k)  What preparation would be required and how long do you think crematoria might require to prepare for the implementation of any price control regulation?

l)  What would be the likely costs of implementation, monitoring and enforcement for crematoria?

m)  Do you consider an initial duration of 5 to 7 years is an appropriate period for the implementation of a price control remedy and achievement of its aims (paragraph 108)?

n)  Do you consider there to be other risks or options for mitigation which we have not considered (paragraphs 83-86)?

Please provide any other comments or questions.

 

Local authority tendering remedy proposal

Working paper can be found here.

We would welcome views on the proposals outlined in this working paper and any other comments on a proposed LA tendering remedy. In particular, we would welcome comments on the following questions.

LA tendering as a remedy option

(a)  To what extent do respondents think that wider introduction of tendered LA low-cost funeral schemes, intended as a response to problems identified on the demand side of the market would be: (a) effective; (b) proportionate. Please answer with respect to each of the implementation options available, that is:

(i)  a CMA Order applicable to all LAs;

(ii)  a CMA recommendation to LAs;

(iii) a CMA recommendation to central government(s) that it/they should create a statutory responsibility on LAs.

(b)  How should the specification of the funeral product to be provided under a LA scheme be determined?

(i)  Should the focus be on delivering a competitive negotiated price for a ‘standard’ funeral package, or addressing funeral poverty through ensuring availability of a low-cost respectful funeral option.

(ii)  How much scope, if any, should there be for variations between LAs?

(c)  What might be potential unintended consequences of wider LA tendering for low cost residents’ funerals?

(d)  What are the current barriers to LAs establishing tendered low cost funeral schemes (eg available resources, other priorities, not regarded as a LA responsibility, etc)? How might they be overcome?

(e)  What are the barriers to funeral director participation in LA tenders for resident schemes? How might they be overcome?

(f)  What are the barriers to take-up of LA resident schemes by bereaved families? How might they be overcome? What types of bereaved people/families would be most likely to use such schemes?

(g)  What impact have existing LA schemes had on wider pricing for funerals in their respective local areas?

(h)  What should be the CMA’s priorities for further analysis or evidence gathering on existing schemes?

LA tendering as basis for price benchmarks

(i) Do respondents think that the outcomes of current and future LA tendering exercises for provision of resident funeral schemes could provide useful data points for benchmarks to feed into price controls?

Other comments

(j) Please provide any other relevant comments or observations on these proposals.

 

Comments please

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?

Pay attention at the back!

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.