“Our own worst enemy”

words: Jeremy West, SAIF Fellow
Jeremy West

“The regulations brought in by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which all funeral directors now have to adhere to should not be seen as a problem but embraced in a positive manner.

I appreciate the Standardised Price List needs some careful thought when costing the different elements, but we should not be embarrassed about our costs or worried about what our neighbouring firms may charge. All funeral directors should be proud of the charges they make for the excellent service provided.

The CMA specification is unfortunately lacking transparency, but we have to ensure that we publish charges which fully reflect the service we offer and, as importantly, can be justified. I have already seen and heard of funeral directors putting in what appear to be low charges for the CMA attended funerals. Why?

Each funeral director rightly sets their own prices for the CMA requirement. However, I do have a problem where a low cost is published then, when families go to arrange the funeral, small extras are requested which significantly adds to the cost. How can you justify a difference of £700 or £800 to the CMA price requirement when you are just asked to provide a limousine for the funeral and start from a local address rather than meet at the crematorium?

I have also heard the expression, ‘It’s a bespoke funeral, that’s why we charge more’. Really? What does that mean? All funerals are unique and different, so if we use this term to justify putting extra on the account we are asking for problems in the future.

Having looked at the bigger companies’ pricing of £1,995 for the CMA attended funeral requirement, I then checked their added extras, and these were certainly not excessive. The question now is how can a company reduce its costs by about a quarter following the CMA enquiry? That really concerns me and the message it gives to the CMA with such reduced fees.

The conclusion most would come to is ‘have our charges been excessive in the past?’, a statement the CMA has accused our profession of. The evidence suggests the case is proven!

The other question is how does a company reduce its costs substantially, keep the level of service, and expect to be financially sound in the future? I would love to know the answer – and I would like their formula. If it does not work and they are forced to increase their charges substantially to make the company viable, what will the CMA make of that? Again, it makes no business sense to me.

The CMA has indicated there may well be a further enquiry into our profession in the not so distant future. Just suppose they record through funeral directors’ websites the average cost in each areas for their specification, then look at the past charges or the significant additional charges some funeral directors make. Either way, I feel we will struggle to provide a suitable answer.

I strongly believe we have a responsibility to our clients and our profession to ensure we publish our charges in an honest and fair manner that can be fully justified and reflects the service we offer. Sadly, though, I fear as a profession we are becoming our own worst enemy.”

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