Funeral directors are not disclosing the prices of their services transparently, despite being put on notice by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that changes were needed, Which? research has found.
A lack of transparency about the cost of their services puts vulnerable customers at risk of paying inflated prices and could lead to many more people spending over the odds. The CMA is currently consulting on the details of new requirements, which it is proposing will come into effect in September 2021.
Fears over vulnerable customers paying inflated prices led the CMA to investigate funeral directors’ costs in 2018. Its final report, published in December 2020, stated that “ongoing uncertainty as to the future path of the pandemic” meant that it has “not been feasible to design and calibrate the price controls” that it had been considering. However its proposed remedies did include a requirement for funeral directors and crematorium operators to disclose prices in a manner that will help customers make more informed decisions.
But the consumer champion’s research from February into 112 funeral directors found that a quarter (29) of them didn’t include pricing on their websites.
Of those that did show their prices, information was often not presented in a consistent way, making it difficult for consumers to understand how their money was being spent. Around 40 funeral directors showed package costs with a description of what’s included but provided no cost break down. Only 18 showed itemised price lists.
Concerningly, even those signed up to the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), members of which sign up to a code of practice that expects them to disclose prices online, weren’t always transparent with their costs. Of the NAFD members Which? analysed, a third (11) didn’t disclose their pricing online.
A spokesperson for the NAFD said: “We are reviewing the CMA’s draft Order in respect of online pricing to make sure we align our online member directory capabilities to the Order. We are likely to introduce enforcement on those provisions of our new Code in September, at the same time as the CMA’s requirements become law.”
The CMA has stated that a remedies package will be introduced by legal order and that the statutory deadline for this being made is 17 June 2021. Measures include letting those arranging a funeral know in advance the price they will pay and the terms of their business, and what services they will be getting for that price. Standardised price lists and additional option price lists should also be made clearly available in funeral directors’ branches as well as online if they have websites.
The CMA has said it will be keeping a close eye on the sector to ensure the remedies are properly implemented. Which? believes that a lack of price transparency from funeral directors so far suggests this monitoring will be essential to ensure better outcomes for consumers.
Jenny Ross, Editor of Which? Money, said:
“Organising a funeral is already a stressful time for families – that stress shouldn’t be compounded by the fear of paying inflated prices.
“Our research shows that many funeral directors are simply not showing their costs transparently.
“To avoid more vulnerable people paying more than they should, funeral directors must do the right thing and be up front about the cost of their services.”