Funeral challenges for new Government
New Government, familiar challenges
Investors welcomed the UK general election result, with sterling and stocks responding positively to the Conservatives’ 80-seat majority and subsequent Brexit ramifications. While Brexit has taken centre stage, the new Government will have to grapple with domestic policy matters including funeral and bereavement policy.
In response to 2018’s UK Supreme Court ruling that denying unmarried parents access to bereavement payments is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos pledged equality for cohabitees; however, the Conservative manifesto was silent on the matter.
Given Johnston’s strained relationship with the Supreme Court and likelihood of replacing the ECHR with a British bill of rights after Brexit, equality pressure groups will be closely monitoring the Government’s response.
With the Competition & Markets Authority to conclude its at-need funerals investigation in September, the Government may be deliberating on recommendations from remedies to constrain prices to regulating service quality. Civil Servants will also present Treasury ministers with final proposals on regulating the pre-paid funeral market, which will require parliamentary approval.
While support for Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulation is likely, questions remain over the precise details, and MPs will want assurances that regulation will protect vulnerable consumers while maintaining competition.
From April, struggling bereaved families across England will benefit from a planned uplift in the value of funeral benefit from £700 to £1,000. While the profession welcomed the announcement, funeral poverty is likely to remain in the spotlight, with Quaker Social Action recently relaunching its Fair Funerals campaign.
Parliamentarians have already showed support for the campaign, with political engagement likely to increase.
A voice for Independents
Commenting on the challenges ahead, SAIF National President Jim Auld said: “This year is pivotal for the future of our profession. With both HM Treasury and the CMA due to publish their final proposals in 2020, it is vital that Independents are thought-leaders in the regulatory sphere and champions of consumer choice.
“That is why, through the Funeral Service Consumers Standards Review (FSCSR), SAIF is working with allies across the profession to lead thinking on the future of regulation, and I look forward to the FSCSR consulting on its own proposals early this year.”
Call for city centre clarity
Birmingham City leaders are considering a ban on cars driving through the city centre. The draft Birmingham Transport Plan recommends councillors prohibit through-traffic in favour of a ring road.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar said the authority must find “innovative new ways to keep the city moving”.
While the draft plan suggests city centre access for service and logistics would be maintained, the plan does not explicitly propose funeral vehicle exemptions. While environmentalists welcomed the proposals, ambiguity over the status of hearses raised questions over the impact on bereaved families.
SAIF National President Jim Auld said: “It is right that our urban centres take steps to improve air quality and tackle climate change. In welcoming these bold proposals, I ask that Birmingham City Council show compassion for the bereaved and introduce a clear-cut exemption for funeral vehicles that require access to city centre crematoria or cemeteries, or that must pass through the city centre to reach crematoria or cemeteries elsewhere.”
The Council has launched a public consultation on the plan and affected parties are encouraged to contribute.
Crematorium land to be appraised
Several crematorium providers have urged the CMA to consider the relationship between investment and fees, arguing the cost of new developments was a drain on resources.
Westerleigh highlighted the “lengthy and costly planning process”, Memoria called it “challenging and lengthy”, and Dignity noted “barriers”.
The CMA has since proposed to appraise the value of land to aid understanding.
Contractors will conduct a ‘modern equivalent asset value’ (MEAV) evaluation of Dignity, Westerleigh, London Crematoria Company and Memoria sites and a separate appraisal of comparative sites.Tags: Birmingham City Council, Conservative, crematoria, Funerals, Government, land, poverty, regulation, SAIF, Supreme Court