Conservative MP warns against ‘watered down’ funeral plan industry regulation

The funeral industry must not prey on fear, Conservative MP Lucy Allan told MPs during a recent parliamentary speech.

The Yorkshire Post published an excerpt of the speech by the MP who represents Telford in Shropshire and who sits on the Health and Social Care Committee. Ms Allan drew attention to predatory practices by certain elements of the funeral plan industry, who often target older people who might be worried about the costs of funerals.

She told parliament that the funeral plan industry has grown extensively in recent years, with some 1.6 million people now holding a funeral plan and some 218,000 taking out a new plan last year and more than £4 billion in funds under management held in those plans.

Good providers out there

The industry remains, however, unregulated. Ms Allan said that the Funeral Planning Authority claimed that it provides oversight, but this was still not regulation. It was worth remembering, she added that there were good providers such as Dignity and Co-op Funeralcare and that they would be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority by 29 July.

However, other providers have still not applied to be regulated and others have not been accepted for regulation. Concerns had been raised about where that would leave people who held plans with those providers.

She warned that the industry had a record of using high-pressure sales techniques, such as cold calling and having reps sit in people’s homes until they had signed on the dotted line.

‘Extraordinary’ fee arrangements

There were also extraordinary fee arrangements where 25 percent of the plan could be taken as a commission and the use of intermediaries, such as will writers who then sold funeral plans when all someone wanted was a will.

A lack of transparency about how the money was invested was also a concern and those providing plans often played on people’s fears, telling them that a funeral plan was essential when people could simply save the money themselves and make it clear to their relatives what they wanted to happen when they die.

Ms Allan said she was worried that industry lobbyists were seeking to water down the FCA regulation proposals. If the proposals were watered down, it would become easier for companies to be regulated and that might not give consumers the level of protection needed.

 

The Public Health Funerals Information Service (PHFIS) is a free resource for those dealing with public health act funerals. Click through to our homepage here: www.Publichealthfunerals.org to find out more about our news, resources and events.


Newspaper investigation reveals rise in public health funerals

The Mirror newspaper has revealed massive rises in the number of people requiring a public health funeral in 2020, often referred to as a pauper’s funeral.

A public health funeral is a basic, no-frills service that is paid for by the local authority in cases where someone dies in poverty and their next of kin cannot be found or don’t come forward.

The paper’s Freedom of Information investigation compare data from 362 out of 371 councils in Britain and found there were 5,875 public health funerals last year, with the true total likely to be not far off 6,000 – or one in 100 deaths.

Twenty-six percent increase

The figures mark a 26 percent increase on 2019. The increase is thought to be due to several factors – rising funeral costs, the increase in the numbers of people living and dying alone, and poverty.

Among those who ended up having a public health funeral in 2020 were “Baby Ruja”, who died on the same day she was born in Doncaster and whose body was cremated four months later. The oldest people were 101-year-old Frances Oldridge from Southampton and 103-year-old Maximo Andreo in North London.

Christina Martin who works for Wealden Council’s environmental health department in East Sussex organised and attended 11 public health funerals last year, up from four the previous year. She does not think the pandemic is responsible for most of the increase in numbers.

Funding a big issue

While she attended a couple of Covid funerals, she told The Mirror, the overall contributor seemed to be the ageing population and people not having a traditional family set up. Funding was another big issue, as basic funerals can cost as much as £4,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions has means-tested support for some cases, such as the death of a child or if a family claims certain benefits.

Christina explained that public health funeral were needed for bodies that hadn’t been dealt with. Her job was to go in after the police and ambulance services have left and do a more thorough search, looking for any documentation in houses that might help her find relatives. She also looks for valuables so that they can be added to a person’s estate and used to offset the funeral costs.

Council responsibility

Wealden Council was able to reclaim its costs in full from the deceased’s estate in seven out of last year’s 11 cases. Public health funerals are the responsibility of the council where the person dies.

Danny Curran, Finders International’s CEO and founder, said: “Thanks to our experience searching for next of kin when people die intestate, we can find the relatives of almost anyone very quickly.

“Local authorities and NHS trusts can apply to our funeral fund for a subsidy payment that can go towards the cost of public health funerals. These will be cases where there genuinely are no known next of kin (rather than next of kin simply refusing to pay) and Finders will carry out research to confirm this. For more information or to apply for a subsidy, simply contact us at [email protected] or call Freephone 0800 085 8796.”

 

The Public Health Funerals Information Service (PHFIS) is a free resource for those dealing with Public Health Act Funerals. Click through to our homepage here: www.Publichealthfunerals.org to find out more about our news, resources and events.


Investigation conducted into Local’s Authorities approach to ‘Pauper’s Funerals’

The Guardian has reported that Councils in England and Wales are waiving their responsibility to provide Public Health act funerals, more commonly known as “pauper’s funerals.”

Quaker Social Action, an anti- poverty charity, stated that families of a low income, are often being turned away because they are not able to afford to pay for the burial or cremation of their loved ones.

Senior Business Manager at Finders International and spokesperson for the Public Health Funeral Information Service, David Lockwood, comments: “The article highlights the need for a unified approach by local authorities on this sensitive matter, at a time when the most vulnerable in our society need help navigating the perfect storm of the pandemic and cuts to council funding which have hit services up and down the country.

The non-statutory guidance issued by the ministry for housing, communities and local government was a good start, but the legislation needs to be updated and reflect the times in which we live.

Funeral poverty is a real issue for so many, the amount of people that have approached our advice line has more than doubled since the pandemic hit, funerals are too expensive, and a solution has to be found. Perhaps we need to revisit the idea of the DWP issuing a standard payment when someone passes away to cover the cost of a simple cremation? This would assist so many and ensure that when a Council has to make arrangements local budgets aren’t adversely affected.”

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jul/06/uk-councils-failing-to-provide-paupers-funerals-investigation-reveals

The Public Health Funerals Information Service (PHFIS) is a free resource for those dealing with public health act funerals. Click through to our homepage here: www.Publichealthfunerals.org to find out more about our news, resources and events.


The year of COVID-19 – and resilience at its finest

2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for us all and, as it can be assumed that no one has been left untouched by the virus in some way or another, it would be understandable if you were to describe it negatively.

However, the single word I would use to describe this year would be ‘resilient’.

The definition, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘[they] showed great courage and resilience in fighting back from a losing position to win the game’.

While in no way do I imply 2020 has been a game, it is how you respond in the face of adversity. For local authorities, a pandemic will have been prepared for with emergency plans being put into place after years of endless preparation. Staff have had to adapt overnight from working in offices to working from home.  The challenges to IT teams have been immense and the strain on already overstretched resources may have even led to sleepless nights for staff struggling to ensure services continue whilst still keeping themselves and colleagues safe.

Similarly, Finders International have had to change with the majority of staff working remotely. While it has been easier for Finders to diverge operations given the smaller scale of staff, it was no mean feat to undertake. Physical resources have been closed, which presented a few issues, however online resources remained available and Finders were able to continue tracing next of kin as usual.

Personally, 2020 has meant I have seen a change in the way I work with face-to-face meetings being postponed. Over the past two and a half years prior to the lockdown, I have had the privilege of meeting many of you in person whether that be in your offices or at one of the many events we have successfully run across the country.

However, in late February it was beginning to look like things were needing to change and quickly as the realisation dawned on many that this crippling virus was not going to go away. Our events were postponed, and we moved our conferences online. Zoom became the new normal with our speakers recording their presentations for our events. Staff have had to adapt, learn and develop new skills to ensure that we provide a quality offering online. Websites have been amended to better suit changing needs, requiring the whole team to pull together.

While we usually have one PHA Funeral event a year, we provided two this year and we have further provided separate events for deputyship teams, private client solicitors, hospitals and coroners, which we are proud to have successfully organised receiving excellent feedback. Furthermore, for each feedback form completed, we donated money to charities working hard to support those that need it the most during this turbulent year.

Whilst we may not know when, or if, things will return to normal, we have still been able to support teams, provide quality material and engage via video conferencing. In the face of adversity, I think we have all shown great resilience and we are looking to further excel our drive to supporting the public sector into 2021 – a year we are all looking upon optimistically.

Have a peaceful and relaxing festive season, but of overwhelmingly more importance, keep well and keep safe.

Hope to see you in 2021.

David Lockwood – Finders International

 

The PHFIS is intended as a guide for local authorities and hospitals who deal with public health funerals. If you would like to learn more about the PHFIS, watch our past events or require assistance, you can further explore our website here. Alternatively, you can telephone: +44(0) 20 7490 4935 or email: [email protected].


Family Relationships Chart

BBC Kent Radio talks to our Dementia Champion

Our very own David Lockwood is invited on to BBC Radio Kent’s morning show again this week. This time to discuss his role as a Dementia Friends Champion and how he provides training via Finders International to clients and staff as well as those at this local football club.

Dementia friends, run by Alzheimer’s Society, is an initiative about understanding the condition and making our communities better places to live for those dealing with dementia.

David’s role as Dementia Friends Champion is to encourage others to make a positive difference to people living with dementia in their community. They do this by giving them information about the personal impact of dementia, and what they can do to help. If you and your team would like to become Dementia friends, you can book in a Dementia Friends session (a 45 min presentation) with David via the following email [email protected] . Otherwise, visit https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/WEBArticle?page=become-dementia-friend for more information.

 


Government guidance issued on PHA Funerals

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government have published a good practice guidance for local authorities who have to deal with Public Health Funerals.

Whilst not being a statutory document, the guidance sets out standards that a local authority should adhere to when dealing with a deceased person who may require a Public Health Act Funeral.

The guidance was written and developed following feedback received from several local authorities and they are designed to “protect public health and are important in ensuring that all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances.”

Some local authorities have been criticised by the media for policies applied to Public Health Act Funerals, for instance not allowing a service for the deceased.

Recommendations are that:

  • councils act considerately
  • make efforts to trace next of kin
  • adhere to any known wishes of the deceased
  • act in a transparent manner
  • attempt to recoup their costs as far as possible.

David Lockwood, Finders International’s Public Sector Development Manager and former council officer responsible for Public Health Funerals, welcomed the publication saying that:

the guidance is long overdue and will help local authorities understand their collective responsibilities to provide a dignified service for the deceased and will help guide policies to ensure a minimum standard is set by all councils.

He went on to add: “I am pleased to see the guidance recognise the work undertaken by probate genealogists, such as Finders International, in this sensitive area; we already work with many local authorities providing a free service to trace next of kin.”

The guidance states that if using a genealogist: “it is important to carry out due diligence to help ensure satisfaction with the provider.” This should include looking at a company’s accreditations, who they work with, if they hold ISO standards, what their cyber security policy is and their membership of professional bodies.

The full guidance can be read and downloaded from Gov.uk here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-health-funerals-good-practice-guidance

The PHFIS is intended as a guide for local authorities and hospitals who deal with public health funerals. If you would like to learn more about the PHFIS or require assistance, you can visit our website here.  Alternatively, you can telephone: +44(0) 20 7490 4935 or email: [email protected]


Cremation

Costs of cremations ‘soar’—Daily Mail

The cost of cremations has soared, according to a Daily Mail article published earlier this month (July 2020).

The paper reports that two-thirds of councils have raised their prices by 16 percent, making the average cost £775 (up from £752), despite limited numbers being able to attend funerals because of social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Funerals are no permitted in churches, but numbers are still limited to allow for social distancing.

‘Pauper’s funeral’

The average cost of cremation was £470 ten years ago. Some councils have reduced their prices, while a quarter of them have frozen what they charge. Quoting from the BBC, the Mail article focused on a widower who compared the lockdown funeral service for wife to a “pauper’s funeral”. Only five people were allowed to attend Neville Wilson’s wife Denise’s send-off after she died of lung cancer in March.

The funeral procession was hearse only with no floral tributes and the family needing to take their own cars to attend the ceremony. The ceremony took place in Coventry, run by the city council there, and was cut from the usual 45 minutes to 15 minutes but still charged at the same price. Mr Wilson said it had felt “unbelievably bad”.

He added that the funeral could not have been any worse “if we’d tried”. Following his experience, Mr Wilson investigated which councils were and weren’t freezing costs in light of reduced service, wondering why Coventry City Council wasn’t doing so.

Upset because they weren’t allowed to attend

He said his two sons were extremely angry because of the funeral service and his wife’s family had been upset because they weren’t allowed to attend.

Councils have defended the price rises, which were agreed before the pandemic, which has also made putting them on more expensive. Service times have needed to be cut so that deep cleaning can be carried out between the services, and this factor has increased costs further.

Down to Earth, a project attached to the charity Quaker Social Action that supports people struggling with funeral costs, condemned the price rises.

The group’s acting manager, Lindesay Mace, told the Daily Mail that the increases in cremation fees were as much as six, seven and even 10 percent in some places since last year. She added that those kid of prices rises were beyond the means of many people, especially because incomes hadn’t risen by nearly as much.

Julie Dunk, the chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said councils had needed to invest in environmentally friendly equipment.

 

Finders International runs a funeral subsidiary fund for Public Health Act funerals. Local authorities or NHS trusts can now ask us for a funeral fund subsidy payment towards the cost of such funerals. These will be cases where there are no known next of kin (rather than someone’s next of kin simply refusing to pay). For more information or to apply for a subsidy, simply contact us at [email protected] or call freephone 0800 085 8796.


Funeral

Croydon Council supporting residents facing funeral poverty during COVID-19 crisis

In a recent article published in The Thornton Heath Chronicle, it was highlighted that Croydon Council announced as a response to the COVID-19 crisis that they will be reducing cremation costs for bereaved families within their borough facing funeral poverty. This reduction in direct cremation costs will withstand for the period of 10 weeks, assisting not only those facing funeral poverty, but further aiding the death management process within the borough.

Croydon has developed and trained 12 volunteer redeployees to assist with the increased demand for death registration. The online tool used to train volunteers has been developed by Croydon and is being shared pan-London and beyond. This increase in redeployed volunteers has increased capacity from 67 to 290 possible registrations per week.

The full list of announced implementations this month, designed to support Bereavement services can be found at: The Croydon Council Cabinet Meeting Agenda for the 11th May 2020.

The article also stated that in normal circumstances, Croydon council oversees around 300 burials annually. With no new graves available at cemetery sites, the council has had to offer the reuses of graves where no burial has occurred for at least 75 years, extending to circumstances where the grave is unvisited or neglected.

Croydon is the lead borough for the South London coronial area (made up of Croydon, Bromley, Bexley and Sutton) and is also a member of the London Mortality Planning Group that has established a mortality planning group for the south London area made up of representatives involved in the death management process.

Within their most recent cabinet meeting, the members will record its thanks to all frontline and support service staff who have continued to provide vital services across the borough. Such thanks extend to the organisations, staff and volunteers across Croydon, covering voluntary and community groups, including those contributing to bereavement services within the borough.

To find out more, visit: https://www.croydon.gov.uk/

The PHFIS is intended as a guide for local authorities and hospitals who deal with public health funerals. If you would like to learn more about the PHFIS or require assistance, you can visit our website here.  Alternatively, you can telephone: +44(0) 20 7490 4935 or email: [email protected]


Funeral expenses payment rises

The amount of money that the Government will pay towards a funeral has risen from £700 to £1000 for claims made where the person has died after the 8th April. This change applies to England and Wales under Funeral Expenses Payments and in Northern Ireland as well.

The payment is made to help pay funeral costs, but will not cover all the costs incurred when making funeral arrangements. The amount paid depends on the individual claiming's circumstances and will also be reduced if the deceased had savings or left an estate. Claimants might still have to pay for some or most of the costs themselves.

A maximum of £120 can be paid where the deceased had a funeral plan but certain items weren't covered under that plan.

The money is paid to those who meet the eligibility criteria where the claimant is either partner, close relative or a close friend of the deceased and is in receipt of certain state benefits such as Universal Credit, Income Based Jobseekers Allowance, Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit etc.

The full list of benefits and details of how to claim can be found on the government’s website:

https://www.gov.uk/funeral-payments

For Scotland, the Funeral Expenses Payment has been replaced by Funeral Support Payment. Ths is a one-off payment from Social Security Scotland which helps cover the costs of a funeral for those on a low income. The payment is far more generous at a maximum of £1500.

To receive it, the claimant must normally live in Scotland and must get one of the applicable benefits. The Claimant must have accepted responsibility for paying for the funeral, and must be named on the funeral bill.

To find out more, visit the gov.scot website

For Northern Ireland, guidance and forms are available at the NI direct website


Coronavirus legislation implements swift changes

MP’s are to debate new legislation that will bring in a package of emergency measures to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Whilst the legislation deals with a raft of proposals on public health grounds, medical provision and border controls, it also deals with the possible increase in mortality rates.

The legislation proposes significant changes to the way deaths are recorded, which includes the easing of requirements upon coroners to sign death certificates when other health practitioners aren’t available.

The proposed legislation will also allow funeral directors to register deaths on behalf of families if they are unable to make the arrangements due to being quarantined. Registrars will also be allowed to accept electronic copies of documents to carry out the registration.

The requirement for a second confirmatory medical certificate to be presented before a cremation takes place is to be removed to free up medical staff.

With regards to the “management” of deaths, local authorities will be allowed to streamline their services, which includes increasing the operating times for crematoriums and directing the movement of bodies. This will include co-opting forms not involved in the funeral sector to provide support where necessary.

The National Association of Funeral Directors report, on their website, that they support these changes to legislation, calling on the government to ensure that funeral service workers are key workers. They state that they “believe the legislation, combined with ongoing dialogue at both a national government and local resilience forum level, will enable the funeral profession to properly care…at a very difficult time”.

Some local authorities have already taken measures to protect the public and staff during the outbreak. Several crematoria, including Yeovil Crematorium run by South Somerset District Council, have suspended public facing services during the outbreak. Staff at the Yeovil site will still be operating services and responding to telephone calls and email enquiries, but waiting rooms, offices and chapels will be closed to the public. Cremations will still take place, but all public services will be suspended due to social distancing. Grounds will remain open to the public.

Cllr Peter Gubbins of South Somerset DC stated that “This has been an incredibly hard decision for us to make but the safety of the public and those that operate the site has to be our priority. The risks of continuing to hold public services at this time are too great and we will be working with local funeral directors to ensure they are fully informed. This is not something the council wants to do, nor takes lightly but, given the difficult circumstances, is a sensible course of action.”