COMMONS

Committee to press funeral industry on twice-inflation price hikes

18 June 2019

In 2016 the Committee reported on the “opaque, outdated” and inadequate state support for the bereaved, including what the Chair has described as the continuing “profound injustice” of an “archaic policy” whose “victims are children”,  which sees bereaved, unmarried parents denied support for their children that is granted to a parent that has lost their spouse.

It also expressed serious concerns about the growing disconnect between the cost of a funeral – rising at an average inflation-busting 6% over the last 14 years  – and the cost the Government is prepared to fund through the Funeral Expenses Payment.

The apparently inexplicable rising costs of even a basic funeral led the Committee to submit evidence it had collected about the operation of the funeral industry to the Competition Markets Authority, which has since opened an investigation. Responding to the CMA's announcement that it had launched a “major funerals probe” to address concerns about price hikes that hit people at their most vulnerable, Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Committee reported on how many poorer people are ripped off by funeral directors. I'm glad the CMA has recognised the need to take an in depth look at this market, to put an end to the exploitation of bereaved people."

The session  starting at approximately 1030 on Wednesday 19 June will hear from a panel of four major funeral directors’ groups:  Co-op Funeral Care and Dignity, the two biggest “players” in the funeral market (with market shares of 16% and 12% respectively as of 2018), and funeral directors’ associations SAIF and NAFD. It will focus on funeral costs and the Funeral  Expenses  Payments which  can  be made  to  claimants   - on  certain means-tested benefits and tax credits - who cannot afford the  cost of a funeral for their loved one when they are bereaved.

The payment is intended to cover the “necessary” costs of a funeral  - such as the actual burial or cremation, transportation costs to move the deceased’s body and the cost of any documentation needed to obtain access to the assets of the deceased. There is then an additional £700 provided for “other funeral expenses”, expected to cover things like a coffin – the Committee has previously noted that it might surprise some to find this is not considered a “necessary” funeral cost - the church and funeral director fees, and on to things like flowers.

When the CMA announced its intention to investigate the funerals market autumn last year, Royal London reported that the average cost of a funeral had fallen very slightly over the  preceding year to £3,757, amid speculation that increased focus on the sector was sparking a price war. However, the same week, competitor insurer Sunlife said in its “Cost of Dying” report that the cost of the average basic funeral had risen for the fifteenth year in a row to £4,271.

Witnesses

Wednesday 19 June 2019, Wilson Room, Portcullis House

At 1030

  • David Collingwood, Director of Funerals, Co-op Group
  • Paul Allcock, UK Government Liaison - Executive Committee, National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF)
  • Jeremy Field, Past President, National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)
  • Simon Cox, Head of Insight and External Affairs, Dignity

Further information

Image: David Kemp-Wikimedia

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