Early data suggests that the cost of holding a funeral may be starting to decrease, following new rules set out by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for the sector.
An investigation launched by the CMA in 2018 found a number of issues in the funeral sector relating to pricing, quality of the services provided, and transparency with families of the deceased.
The key issues identified in the investigation were:
- The fees charged by funeral directors were increasing at a rate considerably above inflation, particularly from larger chains.
- Fees for cremations in particular, which account for 77% of funerals, had increased by 84% over a decade, more than three times the rate of inflation, and most people had limited options due to the general scarcity of crematoria.
- Customers could save £1,000 of funeral costs by comparing local options, but were often not in a state of mind to shop around, making it easier for funeral directors to overcharge.
- Prices were also not always advertised online, making it harder to compare options.
- Widespread misconception that funeral directors are regulated – this is not true in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some directors providing poor quality of care to the deceased.
Following their final report, the CMA announced a series of new rules for funeral directors and crematorium operators, hoping to minimise the financial impact of arranging a funeral on grieving families and make the planning process more transparent.
These rules are:
- Funeral directors must be more transparent with customers about pricing so they can make informed decisions.
- Pricing must be provided before a customer commits to a particular service so they know how much they will be charged (eg. if a deposit is required).
- Customers should be made aware of any business or commercial interests that the funeral director has.
- Funeral directors cannot pay hospitals, care homes and hospices to refer people to their services.
The CMA noted in their report that the high number of deaths caused by COVID-19 impacted their investigation significantly, increasing demand for funerals and skewing some of their results. This meant that they were unable to enact certain rules, such as measures to control prices themselves.
Despite this, it seems that the CMA’s measures may already be having the intended effect. A subsequent review, also by the CMA, found that funeral directors operating over four branches charged customers just over £2,600 on average for funeral services in the year ending 31 August 2022 – this number is broadly unchanged from the year before, but this technically represents a reduction in real terms, given that inflation is causing prices to rise elsewhere.
Martin Coleman, Panel Inquiry Chair of the CMA, emphasised that further change in the sector is “necessary”, and hopes to see more rigorous price control implemented “when circumstances created by the pandemic change sufficiently to permit these to be considered”.
The CMA has recommended that the government establish an independent body to monitor the quality of funeral services in the UK, as a first step towards establishing overarching regulation for the sector.
If you need to arrange a funeral or are wondering about the costs involved, our article How much does the average funeral cost? may be useful. Or, if you are looking for resources in order to meet the cost, you can read our article How to pay for a funeral for some suggestions.