As you may know, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) set out to investigate the pricing practices of the death care industry in that country in March of 2019. They now have concluded the investigation with some findings but also indicated that “further change in the sector is necessary but some of the remedies we were considering could not safely be introduced in the middle of a national emergency (The COVID-19 pandemic)”. They further stated, “Our proposals will hold open the door to price controls when circumstances created by the pandemic change sufficiently to permit these to be considered.”
So, in essence, the investigation has concluded, but the remedies are being delayed. You can read an article on this development here.
According to that article, here are some of the findings of the CMA investigation:
- Due to the inherent emotional distress people experience when arranging a funeral, they understandably tend not to spend time comparing providers.
- The fees charged by funeral directors and crematoria increased at a rate well above inflation for at least a decade.
- The investigation found that, although many funeral directors meet good standards, some are providing unacceptably low levels of care of the deceased.
- The restrictions imposed by government during the pandemic has changed the kinds of funeral services available to people. This has also made it challenging to effectively conduct research and testing into possible remedies.
These findings, according to the article present a unique dilemma. Here is what the report says, “On the one hand, it is clear that the funerals sector is not working well and that reforms will be needed. On the other hand, the pandemic has created insurmountable obstacles to some of the solutions needed to design and implement far-reaching reform of the sector at this stage.”
Martin Coleman, the CMA Panel Inquiry Chair commented as such, “Given the inherently distressing circumstances in which people arrange a funeral , we want to make sure they can be confident that they are not being overcharged and that their loved one is cared for property — this is what our investigation has focused on. . . .
. . . But there are remedies that are feasible and effective in the short term. We are proposing a package of “sunlight” remedies which will shine a light for consumers on the pricing and practices of the sector and make sure that deceased people are cared for properly. This will ensure that the prices of funeral directors and crematoria, and the quality of the service that funeral directors provide, are exposed to greater scrutiny, helping people to make the right choices during an incredibly difficult time.”
Funeral Director Daily take: I’ve been involved in the funeral business since 1980 and consumer choice as well as getting consumers knowledgeable has never been far from the governments concerns in that entire time. I’ve always been a free-market advocate with a “caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) mantra. I would go as far to say as that I believe it is part of the consumers’ responsibility to know what they are getting into.
However, I’m not against price disclosures and letting the consumer know the cost of something before it is purchased. And, we have now moved well into the day of internet marketing and sales that I might as go so far to say that a business that does not post its prices so that the consumer can shop in the comfort of their own home will lose business.
In the USA funeral service is now being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and recently in Australia we just had the Haynes Commission to vet preneed funeral policies – and some are advocating for more regulation in Australia as you can read in this Funeral Director Daily article from 2019. With the addition of the CMA investigation in the United Kingdom, someone in our industry would have to be avoiding the regulatory news if they don’t believe there is a great interest in death care pricing worldwide at this time.
It is my opinion that getting this transparency in place and under control will, in the long run give funeral service a better reputation among consumers and be a positive for the industry overall.