Britain’s competition watchdog is launching a full investigation into the UK funeral market after it found the cost of organising a funeral increased by 6% each year – twice the inflation rate – for the last 14 years.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said funerals typically cost several thousand pounds and it accused some funeral directors of taking advantage by charging high prices at a time when its customers were vulnerable.
The average cost of a funeral in Britain is £4,271, excluding discretionary items, which is 68% higher than a decade ago. The average cremation fee has gone up 84% over the period, to £737. Cremations account for more than three-quarters of funeral services.
Following the publication of an interim report in November, the CMA found that a full investigation was justified after it highlighted concerns about the effectiveness of competition in the sector. The investigation will focus on both funeral director and cremation services and should be completed within 18 months.
The watchdog said the reluctance of firms to disclose clear prices, including online, and to provide comprehensive information on the quality and range of services made it hard for people to compare funeral directors.
It found low numbers of crematoria in local areas and that the planning regime and high fixed costs are putting off providers from establishing new sites. This has led to average price rises of 6% to 8% each year for the past eight years at the largest private operators, while some local authorities have also implemented big increases in fees.
Dignity, the UK’s only publicly listed funeral services firm, said it supported an investigation because it could improve standards across the sector. Its chief executive, Mike McCollum, said: “Dignity has made clear that we welcome the CMA’s investigation into the funeral market and look forward to continuing our work with the CMA and other industry bodies to protect consumers.”
The Co-op, one of the UK’s biggest funeral providers, started cutting its prices in 2016, forcing its rival Dignity to slash the price of its cheapest funeral package by 25% last year.