Is combating funeral poverty while maintaining a successful funeral business possible?

Sims and Jones Independent Funeral Directors is a relatively new business. However its core staff have many years’ experience in the profession. The raison d’etre for our business was to change the current trend within the funeral industry. We wanted to create a business with a modern outlook, traditional values while being both realistic and as transparent as possible. Our ethos is to offer compassion and care when they are needed most.

After the renovation of our office, mortuary and visiting area, the completing of our branding, company stationery, website, e-mail addresses, registering the company and the creation of legal documentation it was time to consider our price structure. Following the creation of the original business plan and financial forecasts, we had some idea of what level of profit we required. This would enable us to pay back business loans and for the business to grow and become a success. However, within this planned structure we were aware that we needed to consider the important subject of “funeral poverty”.

A funeral invoice is divided into two parts. One, the funeral directors professional fees. Two, third party charges or disbursements. The third party charges or disbursements are not directly in the funeral director’s control, however they are contributory to the final invoice. They are payments made to: Crematoria, Cemeteries, Doctors, Clergy, Churches, Local newspapers for obituaries, Florists and any payment made, on behalf of the bereaved, to a third party which is then claimed through the funeral invoice. The amount of disbursements, claimed by the funeral director, should be the same as the third party charges made to them. Sadly this is not always the case. The charges by local authorities and suppliers of the above services should also be scrutinised to help combat funeral poverty.

The other part of the invoice is the funeral director’s professional fees. These charges are for services and products supplied directly by the funeral director. This is the only part of the invoice that should carry an element of profit. Professional fees include: professional and personal services performed prior to the day of the funeral including Embalming and the provision of a Coffin. On the day of the funeral: the provision of a Hearse, Limousines, Order of Service Cards, sufficient staff to conduct a dignified service and other transportation. Funeral directors charges must take into account the business overheads. These include; staff wages and pension contributions, premises, vehicles, essential equipment and other business expenses. Therefore, the level of charges for professional fees would depend on each individual business. Having decided on our charges we are able to provide a transparent and simplified cost structure that includes both the funeral director’s professional fees and the disbursements to third parties. Thus we have created our Essential Funeral and our Inclusive Funeral. We also provide a bespoke funeral, should this be required.

The above information is what we, at Sims and Jones Independent Funeral Directors would like to see within the organisation of any Independent Funeral Director. However, the UK has several nationally run, multimillion pound companies such as: Co-operative Funeralcare, Dignity Plc and some smaller (though still national) Co-operatives. These major conglomerates have risen in number oven the years. The Co-op currently have approximately 25% of the market in the UK, and dignity approximately 15%. There are other companies such as Funeral Partners who are also on the acquisition trail and now own around 140 businesses.

In recent years funeral costs have risen exponentially. Personally I would link these figures with rising funeral costs. This, in our opinion, is driven by the national funeral conglomerates. However, it is good to see that the Co-operative Group have recently offered a Simple Funeral, excluding disbursements, for £1995. In 2015, according to the Co-operative Funeralcare website, their average disbursements amounted to £1016 making the total cost of the Cooperative Group’s Simple Funeral £3011. Dignity Plc do not indicate their costs on-line nor, in our opinion, do they display transparency in their costing structure. There is no equivalent to the Simple Funeral advertised by Dignity Plc. Dignity Plc own 39 crematoriums and have recently purchased five crematoriums from Co-operative Funeral Care for 43 million pounds. The cost of a cremation in the Dignity owned crematoriums is irrational and unjustified.

Sims and Jones Independent Funeral Directors offer an Essential Funeral service for £1995 including disbursements. This is a saving of over £1000 on a similar service offered by the Cooperative Group. We believe that the monopoly created by the national conglomerates has been the reason for rising funeral costs and the major cause of funeral poverty. Over recent years the national conglomerates have set the precedent of what people expect to pay for a funeral, and if they pay any less than their upper limit the bereaved family are made to feel tawdry. The national conglomerates have set their prices as a sort of benchmark to which all Independent Funeral Directors must aspire. This has pushed up the price of funerals from the independents as they try to emulate the national conglomerates.

Sims and Jones Independent Funeral Directors are determined not to get involved in this upward spiral of funeral costs. As a company pegging our price structure in line with the national conglomerates is not something we want to do. Therefore, we have devised our cost structure based on our own business situation. We could not be blamed if we were to offer our Essential Funeral for £2495. We would still be £500 cheaper than the Co-operative Group’s Simple Funeral and still making an additional profit of £500. However, this was something that we did not feel was necessary given our own business situation. As funeral directors we are privileged to help at a very difficult time without taking any financial advantage of this emotive situation.

Our funeral home is, we believe, welcoming, warm and homely (very much in the Welsh tradition). We were reluctant to use anything that we considered to be lavish or unnecessary; as these costs too have ultimately to be bourn by our clients.

So, is it possible to help combat funeral poverty while maintaining a successful funeral business? We are not sure if we can combat funeral poverty. However, we believe it is possible to ease funeral poverty while maintaining a successful independent funeral business. We believe that it is unlikely that any conglomerate will assist in easing this situation, or lowering funeral costs. Growing gross profit, increasing targets and making a six monthly announcement that profits are up, is too much of a factor within the national companies.

As the digital age impacts on a once very traditional funeral sector, the public will have far more information than ever before and will now be able to make comparisons on line when once they relied on family loyalty and word of mouth for their choice of funeral director. The general public will be able to discover that there are independent funeral directors in their area that can offer a professional and dignified service at greatly reduced cost in comparison with the national conglomerates. The digital age means that you can find transparency on pricing, within the profession, by comparing the websites of local and national funeral directors. If you have concerns about the level of service of a more realistically priced funeral, offered by independent funeral directors, or you think it may not be as good as a more expensive funeral offered by the national conglomerates, then we would be happy to discuss this with you. For your own peace of mind look for a funeral director who is a member of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) or the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD). Although Co-operative Funeralcare conglomerate are members of the NAFD. These funeral directors are regulated, regularly inspected, and must comply to the code of practice of the association of which they are a member. In addition choosing a member of either the SAIF or the NAFD as your funeral director gives you a safeguard. Each of these associations offer a complaints procedure should your expectations not be met.

With the digital age of the funeral profession becoming more prominent, we advise that any funeral company uses this opportunity to really look at their websites. If they don’t have a website, now is the time to create a professional one. We see a website as another way of communicating with the public and assisting in the ease of funeral poverty. There are websites such as YourFuneralChoice, Fair Funeral Campaign and Funeralbooker among others that exist to help you find the funeral you need within your budget.

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