Funerals: The True Cost? - Tonight

Sonali Shah investigates in Funerals: The True Cost?

Some Funeral companies have been “ripping off” grieving families, according to a former MP.

Frank Field, now Lord Field of Birkenhead, chaired a Parliamentary investigation into the funeral industry back in 2016.

Now in the midst of a major inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), he has told the Tonight Programme that some funeral directors were overcharging vulnerable families.

If it's a decent person, they make sure you got a funeral which you might be able to pay for. Otherwise, they let you run up debts, and then you're in a different ballgame.

Lord Field

Lord Field tells Tonight that the biggest two funeral companies in the country - Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity Funeral Directors - have been overcharging customers.

Lord Field of Birkenhead chaired a Parliamentary investigation on the topic in 2016.

Sadly, you would expect Dignity to rip off people because they've been given the chance. That's what they're doing, it’s to their eternal shame. But what I think is so bad, is the Co-op following them.

Lord Field

Lord Field believes that the funeral sector is ripe for reform, saying “We're moving, inexorably, to a conclusion, where the funeral companies will be instructed to behave better.”

The CMA report charted the rising costs of funeral directors, cremations and graves from 2004 to 2019. It says of the big two:

“Price rises well in excess of general inflation were a core part of Dignity’s strategy for a considerable period of time.

“Co-op took the decision to follow Dignity’s lead and increased its prices by a similar annual rate, noting that only 8% of customers shopped around.

Both the Co-op and Dignity absolutely deny they've been ripping people off - and they say the CMA report is out of date. 

Dignity says its prices have been around 3% below inflation since 2017. 

The Co-op said: “In the last four years we’ve focused heavily on lowering prices, taking 15% off the cost of our most affordable funeral.”

They say they’ve also launched a funeral hardship fund to help those most in need.

Both companies say they've invested heavily in quality and care - and have 99% consumer recommendation rates.

The CMA’s final report is due early next year.

Funeral prices have doubled since 2004 - leaving hard-up families in  £150 million of outstanding debt.

Ian Strang, who runs a funeral price comparison site called Beyond Life says it’s important to shop around - but that often, mourners don’t.

You'll be given in many cases a 20 page price list of different types of coffins, complicated words like disbursements, internments. And if you negotiate over it, you'll think it feels like haggling over how much you love your loved one.

Ian Strang, Beyond Life

Courses are also run by an organisation called ‘The Coffin Club’ though they are temporarily closed due to the Pandemic.

We visited one earlier in the year.

You can catch 'Funerals: The True Cost? on ITV this Thursday at 7:30pm.Useful Links:

Government Funeral Expenses Grant Information

Down to Earth helpline, run by the charity Quaker Social Action

Good Funeral Guide

Funeral Advice

Coffin Club