Watchdog 'keeping close eye' on funeral industry amid serious concerns

·2-min read

A watchdog has said it "continues to have serious concerns" about the funeral industry as it unveiled a raft of measures aimed at helping customers.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned it will be "keeping a close eye" on the sector to ensure improvements were introduced.

The regulator also held out the threat of further action in the future.

The CMA said it had found most customers "find it extremely difficult to engage with the process of purchasing a funeral".

While this was driven by "emotional vulnerability" there was also pressure to do the right thing for the deceased and pressure to make decisions quickly.

The package of "sunlight remedies" proposed by the CMA, aimed at increasing service transparency, include an obligation for funeral directors and crematorium operators to disclose prices more clearly and to let customers know prices in advance.

Customers should also be made aware of any relevant business interests of the funeral director, while certain practices such as payments to incentivise hospitals, care homes or hospices to refer people to a particular firm will be banned.

The CMA is also calling for the Government to set up an independent inspection system to check on the quality of funeral director services, as a first step to establishing of a broader regulatory regime.

But the watchdog stressed the "exceptional circumstances" of the coronavirus pandemic meant some solutions it may have sought, including to control prices, could not be progressed.

It said: "However, the CMA continues to have serious concerns about the sector and one of the conclusions of the report is that it should consider whether a further market investigation reference is needed when conditions are more stable.

"In the meantime, the CMA will continue to monitor the sector using information provided by funeral directors and crematoria detailing their revenues and the volumes of the different services they provide.

"This will help the CMA ensure that consumers are being fairly treated and decide whether a future market investigation is necessary."

CMA panel inquiry chairman Martin Coleman said: "Organising a funeral is often very distressing and people can be especially vulnerable during this time.

"That's why our remedies are designed to help people make choices that are right for them and ensure they can be confident that their loved one is in good hands.

"The CMA will be keeping a close eye on this sector to make sure our remedies are properly implemented and help it to decide whether further action is necessary when circumstances return to a more steady state."