10 things you should know about funeralsWhich? investigation into funerals reveals poor practice

26 January 2012

Flowers

New research from Which? uncovers evidence of poor advice and lack of clear pricing by funeral homes.

Mystery shoppers visiting funeral homes across England were given advice deemed 'poor' or 'very poor' by a panel of experts on 14 out of 20 visits. 

Separate research on pricing found there was also a price lottery across Great Britain - sometimes even within the same town. 

Here we draw on the findings of our investigation to help you make funeral plans at a difficult time:

1.    Talk about funeral options

If you can have this difficult conversation when your relative is alive, it can help you organise what they really want. You can also find out if they want something really simple. 

A 'basic' or 'simple' funeral is very specific and what it includes is clearly defined - provision of a basic coffin and a funeral at a time suitable to the funeral home. 

However, Which? mystery-shoppers were only offered a simple funeral on half of their visits although this option should have been offered by all 18 funeral homes that were members of a trade organisation. 

2.    Plan before visiting funeral director 

There are 30 or 40 decisions to be made at the funeral home, even if you're planning a simple funeral. Ask for what you want even if it's not offered, as the funeral director may be happy to oblige. 

3.    Compare funeral costs

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Which? research found that funeral costs varied considerably, even within the same town.

One Which? researcher phoning funeral homes in Harrow, North London, was given cost estimates of between £2,407 and £3,814 for a cremation with the same specification. 

And a researcher in Glasgow was quoted between £2,487 and £4,199.

Be sure to compare costs over the phone as they're often not given on company websites - we only found prices on one of twenty websites we visited.

4.    Know who you're doing business with

Research by Milton Keynes Trading Standards Officers found that five out of ten funeral companies they inspected did not show their business name. 

In one case, a funeral home that appeared to be a small independent company was actually owned by a large firm  with 30 branches under different business names across the south of England.

5.   Independent funeral homes may be cheaper

Which? research found that when researchers phoned funeral homes in 52 towns across Great Britain, Dignity provided the highest quote in 45 out of 52 towns and had the highest price overall (£4199).

Independent companies provided the cheapest quote in 36 of the 52 towns, offering the lowest overall quote (£1,700) for a cremation with the same specification.

6.    Look for a funeral price list

A price list should be displayed if a funeral home belongs to one of the two trade organisations - the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). 

Price lists were not displayed at half of the funeral homes that were trade body members visited by Which? researchers. A funeral home belonging to NAFD or SAIF should have a logo clearly available. 

7.    Don't buy what you don't want

Embalming is an optional extra and not always needed so don't feel obliged to buy it. Our panel of experts was concerned that the selling of embalming on two visits potentially breached consumer protection regulations.

8.    Ask to see the product

Milton Keynes Trading Standards Officers found that one company described its coffin as being made of paper and its next most expensive as wood veneer. But on inspection both turned out to be made from the same material with a different patterned covering.

9.    Ask about the options

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A good funeral arranger will spend time with you and go through all the options. For example, if your loved one is not religious you may choose to have a civil celebrant take a service and this option should be explained to you.

Our panel rated nine of our twenty visits poor or very poor on the grounds of professional diligence so do remember that you can go to more than one funeral home to find what is best for you.

10.    Remember disbursements 

A deposit will usually be taken to pay disbursements i.e. to pay third parties such as the crematorium. This should be refunded from the estate, although this can take time (check that the executors agree to pay this). 

If there are sufficient funds in the deceased's bank account you could ask for the estate to pay the full bill, including disbursements, before the funeral.

More on this...

  • To check if your funeral director is a member of a trade body visit NAFD or SAIF 
  • For £8.99 (RRP £10.99) you can buy the Which? book What To Do When Someone Dies (quoting code WTD0212. Offer ends 29 February 2012)
  • If you have a complaint about a funeral home belonging to a trade organisation that can't be resolved, go to the Independent Dispute Resolution Service  - IDRS