Remedies “no surprise”
As the final CMA report lands, Joe Murren of the SAIF-CMA Regulatory Taskgroup examines its remedies for the sector
After two-and-a-half years of investigation, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued its final report and remedies for the UK funeral sector on December 18, 2020.
Following the announcement in March 2018 that it was recommending carrying out a market investigation, SAIF gathered together a group of members with appropriate experience and established a CMA Taskgroup. Over the following 32 months, the Taskgroup has attended numerous roundtable discussions and conference calls and pored over thousands of pages of investigation to ensure that we left no stone unturned, including a top tier law firm to support our representation of SAIF’s independent funeral directors.
The remedies should come as no surprise as anyone who has spent a number of years in the funeral industry in the UK could not fail to be aware of the problems that beset it. Lack of regulation allowing the uninitiated to open a business with little or no proper facilities; no mutually recognised qualification with the NAFD, SAIF, BIFD and co-operatives all promoting their own training; a reluctance to be transparent on pricing; among some a general avoidance of investing in back-of -house facilities in favour of front of house service such as vehicles; a reluctance to address the problems as a whole sector due to being inward-looking; and as our SAIF National President states “sleepwalking into allowing the public, the CMA and Governments thinking we are a simple unsophisticated industry”.
To some, this criticism may sound harsh as generally the vast majority of funeral directors are caring, empathetic individuals going above and beyond to ease the burden of bereavement for the families they serve. They give their very best 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year in sometimes very trying and difficult situations; and they do so without complaint.
However, while we congratulate ourselves in providing a very high level of service, we have failed to deal with the problems despite being allowed the opportunity. We have allowed others – the media, consumer groups, Local Authorities and Governments – to dictate the agenda.
So now, without any more debate we have the CMA remedies which we cannot ignore and will be a challenge for many of our members, especially members with smaller businesses who do not necessarily have the extra human resource or expertise to make the changes. Be assured that both your National and Scottish Executives are ready to assist with those challenges, as they have done throughout this very difficult year in supporting your extraordinary response to this global crisis.
The SAIF-CMA Taskgroup has agreed its programme, taking this forward into 2021, and will be very thorough and persistent when consulting further on the details with the CMA. Here, we give a summary of the main remedies and their effect on our members.
Prior to March 2020, the CMA was considering the following remedies:
- A complex package of information and transparency remedies
- Local Authority procurement of funeral director services. (We will monitor this concerning feature as unfair trading practices by local authorities can occur against the private sector.)
- Price control regulation of funeral director services at the point of need
- Price control regulation of crematoria services
However, with the impact of COVID-19 on the funerals sector, the CMA decided it was not reasonable and practicable to properly specify and implement these measures as part of a package of remedies within the timeframe of the investigation.
It was SAIF’s position that the investigation and consideration of remedies be suspended until the full effects of COVID-19 in the sector was fully understood. However, due to legal time constraints on the CMA, this was not possible.
The CMA therefore decided on a reduced number of ‘sunlight’ remedies to address some of the customer detriment identified during their investigation. It also stated that a further Market Investigation Reference (MIR) may take place when the sector returns to normal to deal with those areas of price currently set aside.
Quality regulation of funeral director services
The CMA decided to recommend to the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales that a registration and inspection regime was established as a first step in a broader regulatory regime for funeral director services in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Scottish Government has already developed a Code of Practice for funeral directors and plans to introduce registration for those members operating in Scotland. Scottish members may see the introduction of the Code in 2021, however it is unlikely that a statutory quality control inspectorate and regulations for the other areas of the UK will come into force until 2024.
The effect of these measures on our members may include:
- Clear requirements for funeral directors in the form of statutory minimum standards
- Effective monitoring and enforcement of standards through a statutory licensing and inspection regime
- An appropriate body to monitor and enforce standards
- The collection and dissemination of information to customers on the quality of services provided by funeral directors
Similar to the work undertaken in Scotland, SAIF and its members must start now to review the requirements for back-of- house facilities to ensure we are ready to meet what we expect the minimum standards to be.
The CMA has indicated that requirements may follow what has been established in Scotland so this helps us evaluate the changes that may be required. SAIF will continue in its attempt to become part of any regulatory inspection regime.
Price and commercial information and transparency
The CMA has decided to require all funeral directors to provide customers with price information in the form of:
- An itemised price list of frequently purchased products and services in a standardised format in line with a template provided by the CMA (the Standardised Price List)
- The headline price (the Attended Funeral Price) of a combination of products and services, as specified by the CMA. The Standardised Price List will include the headline price and the disaggregated price of the Attended Funeral.
- If the funeral director offers unattended funerals, the headline price (the Unattended Funeral Price) of a combination of products and services, as specified by the CMA
- An itemised price list of all the products and services that the funeral director offers that are not included in the Standardised Price List (the Additional Options Price List)
We believe the SAIF Taskgroup impacted greatly on this section and the requirement of a Standardised Price List runs close to our own simple funeral price. The details of these lists have still to be consulted on and further information will be given during and following these discussions.
Prices will have to be prominently displayed on your premises and on websites or a similar platform if you do not have your own website.
Further remedies that will impact members are:
- A requirement on all funeral directors to disclose particular business, financial and commercial information to customers. Members with five or more offices will have to give information every six months. Members with ten or more offices will also be required to give an annual update on compliance
- A prohibition on all funeral directors from: 1) entering into or conducting certain arrangements with a hospital, hospice, care home or other similar institution, which could reasonably be understood to encourage, incentivise or require the institution to refer customers to the funeral director or give that funeral director preference over other funeral directors; and 2) soliciting for business through coroner and police contracts.
This is a brief summary of the main remedies. As we further digest and absorb the full implications and impact on members we will keep you informed through this publication, webinars and phone support over the coming months. However, you can be assured that SAIF will always act in the best interests of its independent members.
Read the CMA report in full here.Tags: at-need, CMA, Government, Joe Murren, legislation, online, Politics, price, pricing, regulation, SAIF, taskgroup, transparency