QSA responds to CMA’s provisional decision report on funeral industry
As was widely reported in the national press, last month the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its provisional conclusions from the funerals market investigation which it has been working on since March 2019.
Continuing to engage constructively with this process, QSA’s Down to Earth team has submitted a full response to the CMA’s report, drawing as ever on its casework experience of supporting people struggling with funeral costs.
Key points from Down to Earth’s response:
- We are pleased that the CMA has recognised problems with the functioning of the funeral director and crematoria markets, with “high and increasing prices, well above the rate of inflation, over a sustained period” causing “a substantial and enduring detrimental effect on customers”. From our experience of supporting people struggling with funeral costs over the last 10 years we wholeheartedly agree with the analysis that the markets are not functioning well, meaning that bereaved people are not getting good value for money
- We are very supportive of the CMA’s proposal to require all funeral directors and crematorium operators in the UK to provide transparent pricing information; however we are disappointed that this requirement does not extend to all packages that funeral directors offer or to the actual, local third party costs
- Whilst mandatory pricing information will help, we do not believe that it goes anywhere near far enough to address customer detriment, without the introduction of other measures such as price controls on both funeral director and crematoria services. The CMA has, for the foreseeable future, postponed further consideration of price controls and some other potential remedies which it had identified, due to the impact of Covid-19 on the funerals industry
- We are pleased to see the provisional recommendation for the UK government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland to follow Scotland’s lead by establishing an inspection and registration regime for funeral director services. We hope, given that a broader regulatory regime is sadly no longer being proposed at this time, that this first step does not become the only step
- It is also positive to see the CMA recognising the deep emotional distress caused by “back of house” quality problems that can occur in the care of the deceased, and we are pleased that the CMA is proposing some form of regulation for funeral directors’ back of house standards. However we are very surprised that the CMA does not have concerns about the quality of “front of house” services – i.e. customer care of bereaved people – as the Down to Earth team has provided evidence of concerns from its extensive casework experience. We are therefore very disappointed that front of house standards do not appear to be included in proposals for regulation
- We note the absence of proposals to establish an independent dispute resolution scheme for customer complaints about funerals. We continue to believe that a centralised, independent complaints resolution service should be established which is free to the consumer.
Overall, the CMA’s conclusions and recommendations will – provided they lead to action – represent some progress in tackling funeral poverty. However it is crucial to the wellbeing of bereaved people all over the UK that the good work the CMA has done so far and the remedies identified are not abandoned and that further measures are implemented.