Lucy Coulbert. Winner of the 2016 Low Cost Funeral Provider of the Year in the 2016 Good Funeral Awards for Coulbert Family Funerals, and joint runner up in the Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016 category with her main business, The Individual Funeral Company Lucy is a one woman powerhouse on a mission to improve funeral provision in the UK. She’s also an exceptionally nice person.
Coulbert Family Funerals is Lucy’s creation. It is a not for profit company set up with a specific purpose. It originated from a need to specifically help families who apply to the Department of Work and Pensions to help pay for a funeral. For this reason, it is only these families that Coulbert Family Funerals works with.
In order to keep their prices within what the Department of Work and Pensions will cover, you will need to book an appointment with Coulbert Family Funerals and Lucy will then meet you at The Individual Funeral Company in Oxford. You will sign all of the paperwork at the meeting, and then the majority of the funeral arrangements will be made via telephone and email.
However, in order to keep their prices to the required minimum, you have to do the calling around. It is up to you to apply to the Department of Work and Pensions. They can’t do this for you. It is also up to you to get the agent’s name and their correct email address so that Lucy can prepare a bill and send it to them immediately. Without you doing this, they can only progress things in the same timeframe you are working.
By undertaking a funeral for only what the Department of Work and Pensions pays out means you should never end up with any additional costs to pay. By taking Lucy’s advice, and if you qualify, the funeral may only take an extra few days to take place and not an extra few months like other funeral directors.
Warm, friendly and utterly normal, Lucy is the kind of person you instantly take a liking to. There’s nothing hidden, no faux sympathy or pretentiousness about her, just a genuine humanity and passion for getting it right for you. She doesn’t get in your way, nor does she try and impose anything on you. She meets you right where you are, unafraid and unflinching even with the most difficult or distressing of circumstances or the most complicated requirements. She’s genuinely there to serve every family who walks through the door, no matter who they are, and she gives the same dedication, support and care to each family she encounters.
The Individual Funeral Company opened in September 2013 – a culmination of years of planning and determination, and a massive leap of faith, as Lucy explains; “When I opened the business, I had less than a thousand pounds left in the bank, and a matter of weeks to find the money to pay the next quarter’s rent. But I knew I had to do it.”
Through a combination of sheer nerve, absolute belief in what she was doing and working evenings and weekends at a second job for two years, Lucy held on through the early quiet days, and gradually the unique quality of the service she provided began to pay off. Word began to spread about the small funeral director business that provided completely bespoke service at a very reasonable cost, and eventually Lucy was able to leave her second job to concentrate fully on funerals.
This didn’t mean that she slowed down, far from it. In fact in July 2015, in response to the massive need that she saw for tailored transparent help for families needing to apply for financial help from the DWP, she set up Coulbert Family Funerals.
The two companies work hand in hand with each other, with The Individual Funeral Company donating £100 from each funeral carried out to Coulbert Family Funerals to help fund the costs of running a not for profit organisation. Coulbert Family Funerals is named after Lucy’s grandfather, an inspirational figure in her life, and it is a rare thing in the world of funerals. Often, large companies aren’t interested in helping people apply for a Social Fund Funeral Payment.
Under the Coulbert Family Funerals umbrella, Lucy not only assists with advice on completing the application, she works tirelessly on the family’s behalf chasing the DWP to get a response. And she sees no reason why people in receipt of a payment from the Social Fund shouldn’t receive the same care and support as every other family.
In Lucy’s own words, “We set out to genuinely help people who otherwise may not have been able to arrange the funeral themselves or would have been left with crippling debt. We are certain we can help anyone applying to the Department of Works & Pensions arrange a beautiful funeral and give your loved one the send off you can be proud of.”
This dedication to helping families who struggle to find the money for funeral costs led to Lucy being invited to give evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in January 2016. Appearing alongside a representative from the National Association of Funeral Directors, Lucy spoke passionately about her frustration with the existing system that so often leaves families waiting for weeks not knowing whether they will receive any assistance, nor how much. Her appearance led to an invitation to meet Baroness Altmann, the former Minister of State and a leading pensions expert and political campaigner to share her thoughts.
As a result of her contribution at the Select Committee and the subsequent media interest, Lucy continues to be sought out for her opinion on the as yet unchanged Social Fund Funeral Payment, and in 2017 she was invited to be part of the DWP working group seeking ways to improve the system. She is slightly bemused by this. “I don’t know how this happened,” she says, “Why am I the only person speaking up?”
It’s probably because Lucy is unlike many other funeral directors. She’s straight talking, fearless and take-it-or-leave-it honest. She’s also incredibly bright and very funny.
Her route to owning her own business and becoming the champion of struggling bereaved families is a tale of determination and dogged persistence. The daughter of a mortuary manager, Lucy knew she wanted to be involved with funerals from an early age, but as a people person she didn’t want to follow her mum into a career behind the mortuary doors.
At the age of 19, Lucy went to work for Co-operative Funeralcare and learned the basics of how funerals worked. She also met some amazing people who remain admired friends to this day, some even attending the opening of her business in 2013.
After a few years, Lucy made contact with Revd. Paul Sinclair of Motorcycle Funerals, the UK’s first motorcycle hearse service. She wanted to know if he’d offer a franchise to her, but instead was offered a job with him, and she spent the next four years driving up and down the country as one of his hearse riders.
It was a great opportunity, visiting different funeral director’s premises every day, and Lucy rapidly realised she was getting insight into both how not to do funerals, and how to do funerals exceptionally well. Everything was filed away in the back of her mind, and when she left Motorcycle Funerals for a brief tenure at another national chain of funeral directors, she spent most of her time working on her business plan for her own business.
The next couple of years were spent doing work wherever she could to keep the wolf from the door, all the time trying to get her business off the ground. Undeterred by setbacks (her bank had never given a loan to a startup funeral director before, and she missed the chance to rent the building she first identified), eventually, after driving around the area looking for somewhere suitable, Lucy saw the premises in Rose Hill, and The Individual Funeral Company had found a home.
Starting a new funeral director business is a risky thing, but Lucy held her nerve through the first months. “Social media save my a**e,” she says. “I didn’t have any money for advertising or marketing, but Facebook and Twitter were a way of letting people know I was here.”
The first funeral for The Individual Funeral Company came as a result of The Natural Death Centre recommending a family contact Lucy. The family lived miles away, and the funeral was in London – a baptism of fire that Lucy took in her stride, and since then things have gone from strength to strength.
The premises used to meet Coulbert Family Funerals clients are bright and welcoming. The large windows and glass door spill daylight into the reception area, and a glimpse of Lucy’s desk can be seen at the rear of the building. It’s usually piled high with work related stuff. The window to the right of the door is used for displays – often including a coffin of some kind. When we visited, a lovely white woollen coffin was in the window with draped gold material providing a backdrop and pots of colourful anemones and grass providing a splash of colour.
On the right of the reception area is the arranging room, where a large black and white canvas portrait of Queen Elizabeth II smiles down. Furnished simply with a table and chairs, this room offers a space where you can complete the paperwork in private.
Outside, Lucy has built a secure, locked cold room where she can look after several people at the same time. This ensures that all the space within the building is available for families to use, the best use of a small premises we’ve seen. Behind Lucy’s desk is a little kitchen area where she makes very good coffee, and a couple of cages alongside her workspace indicate the presence of her two beloved dogs, who are usually beside her when she’s at work.
Coulbert Family Funerals have taken over funeral arrangements after families have gone to other funeral directors only to be locked into an unbreakable cycle for months.
Other funeral directors won’t book a day and time for the funeral without a deposit and the Department of Work and Pensions won’t pay out any money without a day & time being booked along with a final bill.
Coulbert Family Funerals can break that cycle.
They issue a full and final bill to the Department of Work and Pensions immediately. This is because their services are set. You can’t add anything to it and they won’t provide any more than specified on their prices page.
They can email their bill directly to your agent at the Department of Work & Pensions and because of this, their bill is usually paid within 5 working days direct into their account so the funeral can take place.
As well as meeting all the criteria to qualify for a Social Fund Funeral Payment, you must also meet Coulbert Family Funerals criteria too:
• The person must have passed away in hospital
• You must have already started the claims process
• The total amount must be paid into the Coulbert Family Funerals company bank account
• They must have the “green form” as soon as you have registered the death
It is very important to note that, as the funeral director’s contribution from the DWP is just a fraction of the normal costs, Coulbert Family Funeral’s service is restricted.
Coulbert Family Funerals will decide on your behalf about the day and time of the funeral as well as what coffin you will have.
You will not be able to see the person who has passed away, they will not be dressed and they will be placed into the coffin in their natural state. Coulbert Family Funerals may only remove the person from the hospital on the day of the funeral (although they will endeavour to collect them at least 24 hours prior to the funeral but this isn’t guaranteed).
Irrespective of these restrictions, you can be assured that your loved one will be treated with the same dignity and respect as Lucy would give to her own family. She promises never to lose sight of the fact that the person who has died is still someone’s Mother, Brother, Niece or Child.
Coulbert Family Funerals is an ethically sound, not for profit company dedicated to ensuring those families most in need of help receive the best that they can.
Lucy feels very strongly that people shouldn’t put themselves in debt to pay for a funeral, and has done her best to address this by finding a way to shortcut the laborious process of applying to the DWP for assistance.
In addition to providing use of The Individual Funeral Company’s premises and facilities free of charge, and making a donation from each funeral carried out by her main company, Lucy also personally funds some of the costs of carrying out each funeral under the Coulbert Family Funerals umbrella.
We wholeheartedly support her work in this area, and are proud to recommend Coulbert Family Funerals as a specialist provider of funerals.
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.