Funeral industry faces investigation over soaring prices

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Sejal Karia

Britain's funeral industry is facing a major investigation from the competition watchdog after findings found the price of a funeral had risen by three times the rate of inflation in just 10 years.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the huge rise in the price of a funeral or cremation did not appear to be justified and put vulnerable people at risk.

The essential elements of a funeral have increased by more than two-thirds in the last decade, while costs for cremations - which now account for 77% of all funerals - have rocketed by 84% on average.

The CMA said it believed a major market investigation of Britain's £2 billion funeral market was now needed to tackle the issue.

The cost of funerals and cremations have risen by two-thirds in 10 years. Credit: ITV News

The CMA's initial research has shown that people generally spend £3,000 to £5,000 organising a funeral.

This would represent nearly 40% of annual outgoings for those on the lowest income.

Funeral poverty has a very human cost as several ITV News investigations have revealed.

A funeral can cost up to £5,000, according to the CMA. Credit: ITV News

Earlier this year, ITV News found relatives were leaving their loved ones in mortuaries for months as families could not afford the cost of a funeral.

A Freedom of Information request by ITV News revealed that a quarter of hospital trusts in England have held bodies for three months or more.

Grieving grandson, Curtis Colt, a 19-year-old from Northampton, could not afford the burial he wanted for grandfather, but there was no one else to pick up the bill.

“My grandpa has been held for five months, there are no words to describe it," Mr Colt told ITV News in August.

"You can’t sleep at night, you can’t eat – all you’re thinking about is the funeral."

"To know he’s just laying there, it makes me feel sick."

Louise Milligan, Bereavement Services and Mortuary Manager for Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, told ITV News earlier this year that the "cost of funerals can be extortionate" with costs, even for a basic funeral, running in the thousands that many can not afford.

"It's horrible for us to have to go through to see the families and to hear the families talking about that."

"They're trying to grieve, they're trying to lay their loved ones to rest and they feel like they're letting them down and it's horrible, it really is," Ms Milligan told ITV News.

Undertakers have previously defended the price rises to ITV News, saying the hikes are beyond their control, with councils increasing charges for burials and cremations.

In the another investigation, ITV News found a government scheme designed to alleviate funeral poverty was failing, with means tested payments for those who can not afford burials and cremations remaining frozen for the last 15 years.

ITV News spoke to Catherine Evans earlier this year, who had lost her mother. As a carer to her disabled child, she was desperate for assistance with funeral costs.

But the DWP payment fell far short of a funeral the much loved grandmother and great-grandmother deserved.

Ms Evans told ITV News: "It would have been mum cremated, nobody there and me told when her ashes were ready."

Instead, Ms Evans took out a £1,000 loan to pay for her mother's funeral - a debt she does not know how she will repay.

Catherine Evans (right) struggled to pay for her mother's funeral. Credit: ITV News

In response to the CMA preliminary findings, chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: "People mourning the loss of a loved one are extremely vulnerable and at risk of being exploited.

"We need to make sure that they are protected at such an emotional time and we're very concerned about the substantial increases in funeral prices over the past decade.

"We now feel that the full powers of a market investigation are required to address the issues we have found."

The CMA wants to hear from people who have experienced poor practices in the sector and wider industry views on the issues it has identified by January 4.