CMA to carry out further investigation of Funeral market

The Competition and Marketing Authority have announced that they will be undertaking an "in-depth" market investigation into the Funerals sector.

This follows the publication of its interim report in November 2018 and it's subsequent public consultation as reported on this site in early March. The CMA report that the vast majority of responses were positive but they still have their concerns over the effectiveness of competition. The investigation will focus on the supply of funeral and crematoria services.

A number of large companies responded to the investigation along with many members of the public. The responses from individuals can be read here on the CMA website. Individuals responding noted price discrepancies between crematoria, the practice of charging more to a non-resident, that the information provided on the GOV.UK website was poor, that restrictive practices were in place in certain creamtoria and that GP's shouldnt be charging for Death Certificates.

The CMA's headline concerns included the rising cost of funerals, the vulnerability of people when organising funerals, reluctance of some firms to publish clear pricing and the rise in Crematoria charges.

The investigation will further examine the concerns identified, the CMA has the power to make legally binding orders requiring changes be made. A group chaired by Martin Coleman will investigate. No date has been set for the panel to report back.

More on this can be read on the CMA website.

 


Still referring to the GLD?

Barrister disagrees with legal analysis in Anglia Research Local Authority Report on referrals by Local Authorities to the GLD

Advice obtained by Finders International from Barrister James Neill of Landmark Chambers, finds that:

  • Local authorities have the power to refer details of an individual who has died intestate without known next of kin to probate research company;
  • There is no obligation in any guidance issued by the BVD which requires local authorities to refer unclaimed estates to the BVD

This follows a document published in 2018 entitled "Local Authorities and Heir Hunters: Myths, Misunderstandings and Unintended Consequence". The legal opinion obtained sets out, in detail, why Local Authorities have every right to refer cases to a Probate Genealogy Company, such as Finders International, and that guidance issued by the GLD (Government Legal Department) or BVD (Bona Vacantia Division) does not require the authority to refer cases direct to them.

The document goes on to look at implications for contracts under tendering and procurement legislation and concludes that

  • Any such referrals if made on an ad hoc basis and informally without payment are unlikely to be considered public services contracts or concessions for the purposes of the 2015 PCRs or CCRs

Danny Curran, MD of Finders International, said that "this document provides clear advice to all Local Authorities who wish to work with Probate Genealogists". He went on to add "we believe that by using the services of a company such as Finders International, it not only saves time for Local Authorities but can have significant cost savings too. At a time when Local Authority budgets are being stretched to unprecedented levels we are here to help ease the burdon on the public purse".

Copies of the advice are available on request from Finders International.

 

 

 


Why are Local Authorities lumbered with caretaking properties?

With housing stock in short supply and Councils’ budgets under pressure, Danny Curran of Finders International says the Government is sitting on hundreds of empty dwellings while leaving local councils with the bill of maintenance.

In my line of business, as a professional probate genealogist, I am often asked: What happens to ‘ownerless properties’ i.e. when there is no next of kin to inherit them? In these situations the property reverts to the Crown, or in reality to the Bona Vacantia division of the Government Legal department. According to the Government Legal department website, “if an asset becomes bona vacantia it belongs to the Crown. The Crown does not have to deal with it in any particular way, but normally an asset will either be disclaimed or sold for full market value.”

The issue that my team at Finders International has uncovered in recent years is that some local councils seem to be lumbered with the on-going maintenance costs of these empty ownerless properties despite alerting the Government Legal Department’s Bona Vacantia division that the property has reverted to the Crown. This period of ‘inaction’ by the Government Legal Department appears to be expanding with some councils left to maintain ‘empty, ownerless properties’ for up to two years.

In November 2016 Harrow Council notified the Bona Vacantia division that the ‘ownerless’ property of the late Pamela Smith* has reverted to the Crown. However two years later, Harrow Council is still bank rolling the maintenance of the empty £600,000 property including paying the insurance for the property.

Ms Y Subotic, Client Finance COP/POP Officer at Harrow Council said: “These empty ownerless properties create an inevitable cost on the council’s already stretched resources. Although we are legally bound to monitor and maintain the upkeep until the Crown’s Bona Vacantia division takes steps and deals with administering the deceased’s estate, it comes with unavoidable costs for service provision and staffing that are levied at the council. In this particular case, Bona Vacantia’s administration of the deceased’s estate has lasted over two years. We now find ourselves in a unique uncertain state that is highly improper and unsuitable. The current wait time for Bona Vacantia’s administration of a deceased’s estate is unreasonable and ambiguous at best, costing our local authority in excess of £3,000 a year.”

Norwich City Council reports a similar situation. It is currently tasked with maintaining a property of the late Mr. Good*, who died intestate (no Will) and has no eligible next for kin to inherit it. Almost two years on, the Bona Vacantia division has still not dealt with this property, valued at around £160,000.

Despite in excess of 200,000 long-term empty dwellings in England recognised as a scandal by Local Government Minister, Rishi Sunak, the Government’s own legal department appears to sit on empty properties around the country that could in fact be sold or used as housing stock.

Every year, on behalf of local councils, we identify around 100 cases of estates that have no next of kin. At an absolute minimum we estimate that at least a third of councils in England have at least one ‘ownerless’ property that it is currently shedding out money to maintain and insure.

We all know that empty properties can have a negative impact on communities through squatting, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Surely these properties should be put back into circulation or sold to release finances in a more expedient manner. Come on Bona Vacantia division - you can do better!

For the latest list of unclaimed estates in England and Wales visit: https://www.bonavacantialist.co.uk/
*Names changed to protect identities/property


Statutory regulation for the Funeral Industry draws closer

As reported on the Funeral Service Times website, the National Association of Funeral Directors have given their backing to tighter regulation of the industry following the Competition and Marketing Authority's investigation into practice in the funeral industry.

However they oppose any form of price regulation as mentioned in the CMA's interim report last November, stating that "price caps will do nothing to assist funeral affordability for the poorest in society".

Read more in the article on the Funeral Service Times Website


Changes to Grants of Probate Certificates

From today (Monday 4th March) HMCTS will be issuing new style Grant of Probate certificates, old style certificates will still be valid.

The new certificates have counter-fraud measures designed to clamp down on misuse of the forms. These include the addition of a hologram, a digital seal, a digital signature and a validation telephone number for people to call.

Click on the link below to see what has changed and what to expect from the new forms.

HMCTS Guide to New Grants