Never knowingly upsold

It’s been very interesting getting out and about visiting new funeral directors who have applied to be accredited by the GFG. We spend several hours looking around, getting to know, asking questions. It’s quite different from a visit by a trade body, of course. We’re there to evaluate the consumer experience. We look out for stuff like coathooks on the back of the door of the ‘chapel of rest’. (We’ve yet to find any.)

If we like what we see and hear we review the funeral director on this website and give them a Recommended by the Good Funeral Guide sticker to wear on their window.

What’s especially struck us has been the individuality of the funeral directors we have visited. Each has a very distinct, often characterful, way of doing things.

Here’s an example. It’s from the contract which Richard Fearnley asks all his clients to sign.

Richard’s least expensive funeral is his Ruby funeral at £1397 including disbursements. Yes, really, £1397.

The contract begins:

I state that I have personally made the arrangements for the funeral of the above named deceased and now take full responsibility of all funeral expenses.

I have been informed about the ‘Ruby Plan’ available for for families with limited means/social security benefits, at a total cost of £1397 including the necessary disbursements for cremation.

My chosen plan is the ‘XXXX Plan and I have today received an estimate for £XXXX…

In this way, Richard’s clients can benchmark what they have chosen to spend against his lowest-cost funeral and remind themselves of the difference just before they sign.  

What a refreshing difference from upselling. 

QSA wins the Guardian Charity Award

Quaker Social Action was today recognised for its work against funeral poverty. The charity, known as QSA, beat almost 1,000 other entries for the coveted Guardian Charity award, becoming one of five to win the annual prize. The honour is given for QSA’s work with bereaved families preventing them from paying over the odds for a funeral and so avoiding ending up deeper in debt and despair. 

QSA is a small charity that has been working in east London since 1867. It has created a series of innovative services including the rent guarantee scheme and a financial literacy programme. Its current projects range from life coaching for vulnerable people to working with east end estates to organise street parties so residents can meet their neighbours. 

QSA won the award for the achievement of its funeral care project. Down to Earth is a mentor-led project that supports people living on a low income, and often already struggling with debt, to arrange an affordable funeral for their dearly departed. 

When the loss of a loved one is made worse by the dread of paying to give them a good send off, the anxiety, grief and guilt is devastating. This project makes meaningful funerals affordable, enabling bereaved relatives to say goodbye without debt or regret. In just two years it has saved its clients over £100,000 in funeral expenses.

Cross your fingers for QSA’s Down to Earth project

Shortlisted for the Guardian Charity Award is Quaker Social Action, which works to improve the lives of people on low incomes. 

Its Down to Earth project has now been running in east London for two years. It has helped people to buy inexpensive funerals. At the same time, it has guided people in the creation of meaningful and beautiful sendoffs. The most important ingredients in any funeral are, after all, free. 

The winner will be announced on Tuesday. Some of Down to Earth’s volunteer mentors are regular readers of this blog and good friends of the GFG in addition to being outstandingly brilliant people in their own right. 

It’s always a lottery who wins awards ceremonies. We shall cross our finger and hope that the DtE team will be rewarded. Good luck!

Down to Earth- addresses both death and debt, helping people plan their own funerals and promoting access to cost effective funeral services.

Funeral poverty is highest in London where an average London funeral costs £3,803 and has risen by 60% since 2004. QSA partnered with organisations involved in end of life care, collaborating to address these issues of poverty and debt by promoting access to cost effective funerals. QSA arranged a basic funeral price with three providers for less than £1,800.

QSA have trained 20 volunteer mentors to act as community advocates, supporting grieving relatives to take control of their situation. In 2011/12 they gave practical guidance to 124 people, negotiating an average funeral price of £2,167, saving over £1,000 per funeral. QSA have hosted eight community conversations about dying, encouraging 122 people to plan ahead.

The austerity effect

In austerity-hit, cash-strapped Spain, body donation is up, funeral costs are down and people can no longer afford to pay the rent on family graves. 

At Son Valenti cemetery, in Palma, Majorca, 6,200 grave owners have defaulted on their annual rent of €10.50 per body, forcing the local municipality to evict entire families from their niches.

Spaniards are also selling their family graves, arguing that it is better to use their money in the here and now. One family from Andalusia said they had recently exhumed more than a dozen relatives going back several generations and cremated them rather than pay thousands of euros in annual upkeep for their graves. They declined to give their name for fear of being ostracized by neighbors.


Quote of the Day

“InvoCare has has seen little customer leakage.”

Invocare is the major consolidated player in the Australian funeral industry, which bears close comparison in may respects with the UK funeral industry though it also has a strong US flavour. 

Invocare ceo Andrew Smith says: “Most families don’t pick a funeral director based on price. Most will pick based on service.” In marketing terms this prompts the question: How do you transmit that message through your marketing materials?  Cutting prices is the easy way to go, you can get that across easily enough. But how do you communicate the quality of your service offer? 

Read more about Invocare here

Low cost is the price of low value

Barnet funeral experts are unsurprised by news that London is the most expensive place in the country to die.

Emma Sargant, Director of Churchills Family Funeral Directors in East Barnet Road said: “I haven’t put my prices up since 2008.”

However, Barry Broad of Brooks Funerals in Church Hill Road said there are options for people. He said: “Funerals are expensive but we specialise in low cost funerals and our customers say that we are about half the price of the bigger funeral directors.”

We suppose that the story is similar throughout Britain. Funeral costs double more or less every ten years, so Ms Sargant has taken a heck of a hit. 

Yes, there’s a recession on. And third-party costs have risen faster than funeral directors’ charges, especially the cost of cremation. But is that the whole story?

The GFG is inclined to encourage funeral directors to audit the value of the funerals they sell — emotional value. Give your clients more time. Work with them to achieve a better end result.

We suspect that people would be prepared to pay more if they got more from the experience. After all, they’re still forking out for weddings. 

End of Life Planning Makes a Difficult Situation Much Easier

Posted by Colin Moore

One of the toughest challenges anyone can face in their lifetime is losing a loved one and then having to guess what kind of funeral and memorial service they would have wanted, also to try to locate important documents and find the answers to key questions.  But it does not have to be this way, by documenting our preferences and important details in advance of need, families can be spared making the difficult decisions of what to do next and avoid all of this uncertainty.

End of Life Planning is about thinking, discussing, planning and documenting the final event in our lives before it actually happens.  It should be a big part and a necessary part of any estate or financial planning service.  We cannot control how we die, but we can control how our finances will be managed, how our estate will be distributed, the sort of funeral we would like and what arrangements or messages we would like to leave behind for our families.

The worst time to plan a funeral is when someone has died.  You only have an average of twenty-four to seventy-two hours to make all the arrangements, while also dealing with the emotional impact of the loss of a loved one.  So, making difficult decisions which cannot be undone when you are overcome with grief is not the best time.

Making an End of Life Plan allows you to make extremely important decisions through a calm and clear thought-out process. In other words, it is much more likely that you will make more rational and logical decisions. This helps to ensure your funeral wishes and other family matters can be arranged in a more meaningful way, and the way you would have wanted.

Most people don’t know how to begin planning for life’s ending.  But for everyone who has made a Will they have already taken a step in the right direction towards pre-planning their future  wishes.  The problem is, this form of planning alone fails to address their family’s immediate concerns between the time of death and and in the crucial days thereafter leading up to the funeral when major financial decisions have to be made.   

The key to effective end-of-life planning is not to race through filling out legal documents but to take the time to understand the full scope of what is involved in putting our entire affairs in order and to seek out solid information on each topical area.  Then we can fully embrace the whole process.

Although an End of Life Plan will not completely alleviate the emotional and financial pressures people will face, it will certainly help them reduce or eliminate many of the most stressful decisions, pressures, and expenses, and ultimately help ease the pain of a very difficult situation.

Colin Moore is founder of The Funeral Consultancy and regularly provides courses and seminars on Caring for The Bereaved and End of Life Planning.

ED’S NOTE: We are huge admirers of Colin here at the GFG. Goodness knows how much money his work has cost him (we know how it feels, Colin!). He is motivated entirely by a desire to be useful and helpful. Do check out his website. He has been tenacious and he has persevered. At long last his work is gaining official recognition in Leicestershire and, what’s more, financial backing from Big Society coffers. Colin, we salute you.  

The view below the radar

An article in the Times dated 15 July, based on an interview with Mike McCollum, ceo of Dignity plc, offers one or two (no more) features of interest.

His definition of an undertaker?

“We’re event organisers,” says McCollum. “We arrange a family event for you on very short notice, which you wish you didn’t have to arrange.”

He adds:

“And, on the day of the funeral, we’re the master of ceremonies. The funeral director makes sure everything goes exactly to plan, to the second, and hopefully makes sure everybody, in an unfamiliar situation, knows where to sit and where to go.”

He doesn’t say if he regards this model as eternal, nor whether he is aware of trends towards empowered mourners who take a different view of the brief of a funeral event planner.

Concerning the travails of his reassuringly inept rivals, ‘Co-operative’ Funeralcare, he is defensive of the hub model and reckons “it’s time people accepted some home truths”.

“The definition of a mortuary is a place where dead people are kept. When people die and they can be in different conditions. You need specialist refrigeration, specialist conditions. You’d expect them to be clinical, to use stainless steel equipment, to be easy to clean. They’re not necessarily going to be nice places to be.”


By way of assuring Times readers who are also Dignity shareholders, the article points out that Dignity’s market capitalisation has risen from £180m to £446m and the share price from 230p to 810p. The writer does not detect the present injurious effect of underfunded funeral plans. Nor does he point out Dignity’s Achilles heel, its high prices, vulnerable, in an increasingly price-conscious market, to consumer scrutiny. Nor does he question Dignity’s policy of brand omerta, a remarkable stance for an outfit in the event-planning business.

Would you buy shares in Dignity?

Source (paywalled)

Simple solution


We had an enquiry the other day about simple funerals. Our enquirer had visited the website of a funeral director, surveyed the components of their simple funeral (as prescribed by the NAFD at 11.4), and reckoned it would do nicely. The cost was £1640.

All our enquirer wanted on top was a limousine. He gave the funeral director his order: one simple funeral, please, and a limousine. So logical and straightforward did the request seem to him that he was astounded when the funeral director replied, “Thank you, sir, that’ll be £3670.”

Two grand for a limousine (fair price, £200 tops). Where the heck did that come from?

Students of the Dismal Trade will not be nearly as astounded as was our enquirer. Most funeral directors hate people buying their simple funeral, so they build in deterrents. The example above is just one. Anything outside the package shunts you up to an altogether more elevated price scale. Add a lim and you pay for a bespoke funeral. Another trick is to bundle a coffin of more than passing hideousness and make you feel like a toerag. The coffin in our enquirer’s simple bundle has no handles. Yes, really. Flagrant to those who read this blog, perhaps, but not, interestingly, something that our enquirer seems to have noticed or cared about.

A great many funeral directors do not advertise their simple funeral. Why does this funeral director advertise his? Is it a gambit to get people through the door – a loss leader that no one ever actually gets to buy? You tell me.

This sort of marketing sleight of hand comes from the Tommy Cooper school of conjuring. Clumsy. When you do something that’s bound to be found out, that’s stupid.
Intelligent, ethical funeral directors can teach their dim or devious fellows a trick here. Start with your professional fee. Calculate how much you need to charge to cover your time, expenses and overheads, then add a bit of profit. Be settled in your mind that what you take home will not be so little as to make you resentful. Once you’ve done that, you can add merchandise and services at a normal retail markup or even at cost. If a client turns up with their own coffin, you won’t mind a bit. The important thing is that there will be no imperative to upsell.

Exploitation of the bereaved is under threat, not from consumers, but from new entrants to the industry who are pricing their services fairly and transparently. The days of the dark arts are, we must hope, coming to an end.

Not yet awhile. Down in London, Barbie Leets was compelled to permit her mother to have a public health or council funeral when she failed to get together the five thousand pounds she needed to bury her. She is angry with the funeral directors in her locality. Why? In the words of the BBC report:

Barbie Leets ‘says that she was never told about the simple funeral that every funeral director is supposed to offer for nearly half the price she was quoted. “I feel very let down, very disappointed. I feel they took advantage of my situation at the time.”’

Watch the video clip here. Enjoy the response from NAFD spokesperson Dominic Maguire.

If you have a view about this, please add a comment. I am conscious that what I have written may not say it all. Examples of ethical simple funerals welcome, too.

Camref – the Campaign for Real Funerals

The departing board chairman of Golden Charter funeral plans offers this cold sweat-inducing warning to independent funeral directors in a valedictory address in the Golden Charter newsletter, Goldenews, which we are grateful to have had forwarded to us. He says:

Co-op and Dignity have both acquired significant additional scale, and unquestionably they are operating with a better financial model than independents – on their own – can hope to achieve. There will be no softening of their ambition and there will be greater local commercial pressure. We can also expect consolidation to come from other quarters, particularly private equity.

Not only are these two corporations and private equity seeking to dominate the funerals market, they are making substantial in-roads into the crematoria market. The strategy is to provide future control of and access to crematoria which will potentially form a risk to independents and the prices that they will have to pay.

Corporations like to deal with corporations, and Co-op and Dignity present like-minded opportunity to the insurance companies. In 2007, an over 50’s plan was merely a means of building a financial provision for a funeral – the question of service provision did not come into it.

However, the insurance companies now manage 60 per cent of funds subsequently to be used to pay for a funeral, and it is a reality that they exert considerable influence over who carries out a funeral.

The funeral industry is one of the last bastions for independents. Almost every other market sector has fallen to national or international consolidation. Over the next five years, the choice for an independent funeral director is simple: sell to the competition or come together and exploit your collective strength.

This remains a chilling analysis even after you factor in the chairman’s sales pitch: ‘Over the next five years, the choice for an independent funeral director is simple: sell to the competition or come together and exploit your collective strength. Golden Charter is the only credible collective umbrella.’

Consolidation, done well, benefits consumers and shareholders. The present corporate players will fail to grow their market share if they don’t address pricing, service and positive brand identity, and they don’t look as if they’re going to hack it. But there are unquestionably opportunities for the right player with a brand that dares to speak its name. As we like to say, if John Lewis did funerals…

The days of the independents just have to be numbered, don’t they? Come on, look at your high street and go figure. 

Or do they? 

Consider the work of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Among its many successes it lists these: 

  • Created a rich and varied choice of real ale – In the 1970’s CAMRA successfully fought the efforts of the big brewers to replace traditional ales with tasteless keg beers. Since seeing off the likes of Watneys Red, Tavern Keg and Double Diamond the campaigning efforts of CAMRA has seen the creation of hundreds of new breweries producing a wonderful array of real ales. 
  • Smashed the Big brewers stranglehold on UK pubs – In the 1970s and 1980s the Big Six brewers, Allied, Bass, Courage, Scottish & Newcastle, Watneys and Whitbread monopolised regions of the country. CAMRA lobbied against this lack of choice in Britain’s pubs and gradually eroded these regional monopolies. 
  • Number of Breweries increased Fourfold – Since CAMRA was founded the number of breweries operating in the UK has grown fourfold to over 840 breweries. Without CAMRA’s presence it is doubtful whether real ale would be as widespread as it is today. 


CAMRA is not an industry body, it is an alliance of consumers: CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale is an independent, voluntary organisation campaigning for real ale, community pubs and consumer rights.
Much the same as the Good Funeral Guide. And the Natural Death Centre. 
The funeral industry is unaccustomed to consumer scrutiny, doesn’t much like it and tends either to keep schtum or react with angry insecurity when challenged and questioned. This is in stark contrast to all those bereaved people who phone and email to thank us for being there for them. 


We believe that independent funeral directors, if they are to survive as a collection of characterful and excellent businesses offering richness of choice,  would do well to reflect that their survival, by no means assured, is likely, if it happens, to owe a debt, perhaps a very great debt, to consumer-focussed communities like the GFG and the Natural Death Centre. To them we say: join in the debate. We learn from each other. We want the same thing. Let’s find common ground. 


CAMRA website here.
Sorry, no link to the Golden Charter newsletter available.