CMA legal order: what it means for us
Over the past two years, SAIF has worked tirelessly to consult with independent funeral directors and represent their views to the Competition and Markets Authority. The consultation has now come to a close. The CMA’s Funerals Market Investigation Order 2021 has been issued, and now, with SAIF’s help, it’s time for us to interpret the rules, put into place and action the prescribed requirements.
How do we know what to do?
On June 16, the CMA issued the Funerals Market Investigation Order 2021 and accompanying Explanatory Notes which are available to view and download here.
I confess that I found both the Order and Explanatory Notes a little daunting on initial reading. But going through it piece by piece, working out and simplifying what it means for us, the requirements are now a simple to-do list to work through and complete by September 16. The CMA and SAIF webcasts have been valuable tools and are available to watch again via the members’ area of the SAIF website.
How are we going to comply with the order?
At R. Locke & Son, we have three branches. Our ‘head office’ is very rural with plenty of space, parking and open views across the countryside, but not many passers-by. Our other two offices are situated in neighbouring villages, one in the middle of a busy shopping precinct and the other is an unmanned office in a quieter part of the village. They are three quite different locations, layouts, window sizes and display opportunities, but all are subject to the same CMA rules.
The Standardised Price List is very prescriptive and must be completed following the accompanying guidelines. I think for many businesses, this price list does not accurately represent their services or the value they offer, and I question how useful it will be to the consumers and families the Order has been put in place to protect and assist.
I have to remind myself the Standardised Price List is only one small element of the Order. It does not stop us from offering our full services through the Additional Options Price List, which has no limitations or constraints on how it is presented. We just need to make it readily available in branch and on our website, and, if we wish (and have space!), display it right next to the Standardised Price List.
We will display an A4 Standardised Price List in a window of each branch. In our high street office, we have plenty of space to put additional services and prices in our windows, but in the rural and quieter locations, with restricted widow space, I think we will simply put a note to convey we have a full range of services and prices which are available inside and on our website, and to encourage people to feel free to call in or phone to discuss without obligation. Although the Standardised Price List layout needs to be followed closely, it can include our company logo, be presented in our company colours, and we can use our chosen font.
Inside each branch we need to display two posters. One with the Standardised Price List, and the second containing details of who the ultimate owners of our business are, our terms of business, any business or material financial interest in a price comparison website, a register of charitable donations to third parties connected to the funeral sector, and brief details of our local crematorium price information. These posters should be A2 but if there is insufficient space available, posters no smaller than A3 may be used, which I think will undoubtedly be the case for our smaller premises.
For the second poster, we have a lot more freedom with the layout, and we will use it to highlight our family-owned independence and include a photo of my parents and me. Our terms of business are straightforward. We have no business or material financial interest in any price comparison websites (the CMA has confirmed that as a SAIFCharter member, localfuneral.co.uk does not apply). We will proudly display any declarable charitable donations we have made in the last 12 months, adding a brief description of what the donation was for, i.e. £XXX to a named hospice as a single charitable donation towards the extension to their relatives’ accommodation. The crematorium information need only contain the headline price for a typical single slot and applicable times.
We are looking at different ways to display the posters, from ‘point of sale’ estate agent-style poster holders, to picture frames with accessible backs, or perhaps having them printed on acrylic sheets for a more modern look. By choosing how we display the posters, we can still maintain the welcoming look and feel of our premises without compromising on the sharing of information. The charitable donation register needs to be updated twice a year and, of course, price changes don’t all occur at the start of the new tax year, so we need to be able to update the posters easily and I can certainly see the appeal of introducing digital displays.
Our Additional Options Price List, which will effectively become our main price list, will be readily available in branch to be taken away and given to clients making arrangements. The full price lists of our local crematoria will be in our funeral director’s arrangement cases and be available in a folder close to the main two CMA required posters.
We continue to support our local parish magazines through non-exclusive advertising, but due to our location, for many of the publications we are the only funeral directors who feature. We have declined exclusive advertising arrangements offered to us by brochure suppliers to local hospitals and surgeries.
Arrangements with local nursing homes
Already, in recent years, I have written to a nursing home which used to call us as a matter of course when a death occurred, with good intentions for the completion of doctor’s forms. This communication was to ensure they first talked to the family, asking them if they have a chosen funeral director and, if so, to make initial contact with them first. Otherwise, to seek permission from the family before our services are engaged and inform them of our charges for transfer and initial care.
We’ve had plans for the development of our website for many years, but we’d had little more than a holding page for a long time. The start of the pandemic spurred us into action and we’ve been especially pleased with the announcements and commission-free donations service we have introduced. Online prices have always been part of our plan. SAIF’s code of practice update and the CMA’s Order have now made us act again.
We are taking the opportunity to update, improve and expand the first version of our website, which we are working with a local developer to launch in early September. To make our price list information the required ‘one click’ away from the home page, we are looking to introduce a narrow banner towards the top of the home page, if not every page, with a button to take you to the price information containing the required PDFs of the Standardised Price List, the Additional Options Price List, our Terms of Business, Disclosure of Interests, and full Crematorium Price Information as provided by our local crematoria.
I anticipate we will host this information on our own pages, but if not, localfuneral.co.uk is updating its site to provide a CMA-compliant pricing page for independent funeral directors to link to from their websites.
You can also upload the Standardised Price List on the SAIF website in the ‘find a SAIF member’ section.
How do I anticipate the order might change competition and client engagement?
I worry the Order will encourage the practice of luring clients with a low cost for a specific service, the prescribed Standardised Price List, but as soon as a family ask for something slightly different, they get moved to a more expensive ‘package’, creating an environment where consumers can be taken advantage of and end up paying more. We will be basing our standardised price on our traditional, bespoke services with simpler options available through the additional options.
My hope is that families will not just look at a headline price but be encouraged to engage with funeral directors at an early stage, to gauge an opinion for the level, value and quality of the service they can expect to receive. Independent funeral directors will have prepared that quality of service themselves to demonstrate their personal, individual and caring approach.
How can the order improve?
The Order is in place and there for us to comply with from September 16. But, as part of the Order, the CMA is to keep under review how it is carried out, including whether the Order needs to be varied, and funeral directors have a duty to provide information to the CMA to help it carry out the monitoring of the Order and review its effectiveness. The CMA can be contacted directly here.
SAIF will continue to offer guidance and support to help its members to be compliant. As the Order comes into practice, SAIF would like you to send in any feedback, positive or negative, ideally giving specifics of dates, times, comments, challenges, or positive outcomes, which the association can use to take to the CMA to help shape any future changes to the Order.
SAIF can be contacted through the business centre.
About the author
George Locke is the third generation of the Locke family to manage the business which has funeral homes in Brailes, Kineton and Wellesbourne in Warwickshire.Tags: CMA, Competition & Markets Authority, digital, George Locke, legal, legislation, online, order, pricing, R Locke & Son, regulation