Fu­neral mar­ket probe after sky-high price hikes

Western Morning News - - Westcountry Business - BY HOLLY WIL­LIAMS

Bri­tain’s £2 bil­lion fu­neral mar­ket is fac­ing a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion after the com­pe­ti­tion watch­dog found prices have been soar­ing for “well over a decade”, putting vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple at risk of ex­ploita­tion.

The Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity (CMA) said it had “se­ri­ous con­cerns” after in­terim find­ings of its in­quiry launched six months ago un­cov­ered above-in­fla­tion price rises for fu­neral di­rec­tor and cre­ma­to­ria ser­vices.

It found the price of the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of a fu­neral had in­creased by more than two-thirds in the last ten years, al­most three times the rate of in­fla­tion.

Costs for cre­ma­tions – which now ac­count for 77% of all fu­ner­als – have rock­eted by 84% on av­er­age, it added.

The CMA said it be­lieved the full pow­ers of a ma­jor mar­ket in­ves­ti­ga­tion were now needed, given the scale of the is­sues un­cov­ered.

It said: “Ini­tial work in­di­cates prob­lems with the mar­ket that have led to above-in­fla­tion price rises for well over a decade – both for fu­neral di­rec­tor ser­vices and cre­ma­to­ria ser­vices.

“The scale of th­ese price rises does not cur­rently ap­pear to be jus­ti­fied by cost in­creases or qual­ity im­prove­ments.”

Shares in listed fu­ner­als firm Dig­nity plunged 13% after the CMA an­nounce­ment.

It comes as the Govern­ment is also plan­ning a crack­down on so-called rip-off pre-paid fu­neral plan providers who prey on the vul­ner­a­ble.

The Trea­sury is propos­ing bring­ing the sec­tor un­der the reg­u­la­tion of the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­ity after ev­i­dence showed el­derly peo­ple are be­ing “pres­sured, ha­rassed and mis­led” by some op­er­a­tors.

CMA chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drea Coscelli said: “Peo­ple mourn­ing the loss of a loved one are ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble and at risk of be­ing ex­ploited.

“We need to make sure that they are pro­tected at such an emo­tional time and we’re very con­cerned about the sub­stan­tial in­creases in fu­neral prices over the past decade.”

The CMA’s re­search so far has shown that peo­ple gen­er­ally spend £3,000 to £5,000 or­gan­is­ing a fu­neral. This would now rep­re­sent nearly 40% of an­nual out­go­ings for those on the low­est in­come – more than food, cloth­ing and en­ergy com­bined.

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