Funeral directors slammed for hard sell tactics

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

An investigation by consumer champion Which? has warned that funeral directors are using hard sell tactics on vulnerable families.

The research found that they tried to push added extras such as embalming, to increase the price, and requests for a 'simple' funeral are often ignored, leaving families with a much larger bill than expected.
Which? conducted the undercover research by visiting 20 funeral directors seeking advice about a dying relative. They also made calls to 150 others, including two ofthe biggest chains Co-op and Dignity to get an idea of services and prices.

The cost of a funeral can differ widely, from £1,799 to £4,199, depending on the extra services families can decide to add, and Which? rated the advice offered by 14 out of 20 funeral directors seen face to face as poor or very poor.

A Which? spokesman told the Daily Mail: "Bad practice we encountered included 'railroading' of researchers to inappropriately buy a funeral plan for their dying relative, and giving incorrect information about the time period for registering a death."

"Some funeral directors failed to provide information which had been requested, gave poor explanations, and failed to ask enough questions to offer a personalised service with a good range of options."

Two companies were criticised for potentially breaching consumer protection regulations by trying to push families to pay extra for embalming, which involves preserving and improving the appearance of the body. Meanwhile a visitor to a branch of Dignity was also told their relative would not be suitable for viewing without being embalmed.

Which? assembled a panel of experts to assess the information they had gathered, they agreed it was wrong to recommend embalming before seeing a body.

The consumer champion also found some staff were not as sensitive and discreet as expected. It revealed that many funeral directors failed to offer an up-front price list, meaning people were left confused about the cost involved.

A researcher who called three funeral homes in Harrow was quoted between £2,407 and £3,814 for the 'simple' cheapest funeral. While in Glasgow, costs ranged between £2,487 and £4,199.

There were also huge differences in the price of a simple coffin, ranging from £160 with the Co-op to as much as £690 with an independent company.

Most funeral homes belong to either The National Association of Funeral Directors or The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. Which? said: "We met with both organisations and are pleased to see they both want what we want – to have all their members trained sufficiently to meet high standards."

The Co-op denied staff push extras such as embalming and said it did not believe there had been any intention to deceive in the case identified by Which?. While Dignity said its staff were not incentivised to 'sell', adding they believed embalming was 'beneficial.'
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