Funeral plans need to be brought under the jurisdiction of the Financial Conduct Authority, according to one MP who has launched a Private Members Bill aimed at doing just that.
Neil Gray, the Scottish National Party MP for Airdrie & Shotts in North Lanarkshire, told Parliament that funeral plans should be subjected to the same regulation as other funeral services. At the moment, no such regulation for the sale of funeral plans exists.
Mr Gray’s Bill has cross-party political support, and is co-sponsored by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset.
As reported by Hansard on 14 December, Neil Gray told members of Parliament he was an advocate of funeral plans in general. He regarded them as the best way to avoid funeral poverty, as they allow people to pay for their own funeral in advance, in full or in instalments.
He has received support from Dignity, one of the largest providers of funerals plans, and the National Association of Funeral Directors.
Speaking to Parliament, Mr Gray said that in the North Lanarkshire area, burial and cremation charges rose by 39 percent last year, the steepest rise in Scotland. The average funeral cost has risen by 7 percent in the last year in Scotland in general.
Overall, there has been a 90 percent rise in the cost of funerals over the last decade and the average UK funeral is likely to cost about £4,000.
He said: “The additional costs are placing an unbearable burden on the already stretched finances of bereaved families, many of whom are getting into serious and unmanageable debt when they lose a loved one”
Funeral plans, he stated, gave people a way of addressing the incredible financial pressure of funerals. Their added advantage was that people could secure a funeral at today’s prices.
In February of this year, Citizens Advice Scotland published a report on funeral poverty. The legal advice charity found evidence of apparent mis-selling by funeral plan salespeople. Some plans covered all funeral-associated costs, but there were others where only the basic funeral director cost was paid for.
Mr Gray worked with the charity, Fair Funerals. Heather Kennedy, Fair Funerals campaign manager, said the organisation welcomed Neil Gray’s call to make funeral plans transparent and fair. She added that terms and conditions in too many cases were confusing and opaque so that people didn’t know what they were buying.
In one recent case, a man found himself tied into an expensive funeral plan after his father died.
He told the charity: “After dad died we found out he’d been paying into a funeral plan for six months. We asked the funeral director what to do. I’m on a very low income, but they told me to sign a contract with them because “it’s what dad would have wanted”. Suddenly they wanted almost £8000 and I had to pay before dad’s funeral.
“At first they said they absolutely couldn’t make any changes to the contract. They put a lot of pressure on me to do ‘what dad would have wanted’ which seemed to be code for spending a lot of money.
“I phoned Quaker Social Action who explained to the funeral director that I wouldn’t be able to pay that due to my low income. The funeral directors eventually agreed to reduce the price to £5000. I shudder to think how other people cope in my situation.”
This article was written by Daniel Curran, Finders International Probate Genealogist