UK Funerals Are So Expensive That a Watchdog Is Investigating

UK Funerals Are So Expensive That a Watchdog Is Investigating

Why you should care

Prices across the pond have been rising far faster than those in the U.S., and they’re raising suspicions.

The British funeral market will be subject to an in-depth investigation by the nation’s competition regulator over concerns that funerals have become unaffordable for many.

Announcing it was moving to a “phase two” probe on Thursday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it “remains concerned about the effectiveness of competition in the funerals sector.” That includes rising costs — both local authorities and private crematorium operators have raised their fees significantly. In fact …

The cost of organizing a funeral in the U.K. has risen 6 percent annually for the past 14 years.

By comparison, over the last 15 years in the U.S., funeral expenses have risen an average of 2.8 percent annually, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the nature of the service means customers are less likely to shop around. “The bereaved are not generally able to exercise some of the most basic commercial judgments that customers typically display in more normal circumstances,” the CMA said. The CMA also said it was difficult to compare funeral directors because many were reluctant to publish clear prices.

If people did compare services, they could save more than $1,300, although such wide differences “appear hard to explain on the basis of cost, range, quality and brand.”

The average cost of a funeral in the U.K. was estimated to be nearly $5,619 in 2018.

In a report marking the end of its initial investigation opened last June, the CMA said that in 2017, there were 607,000 deaths in the U.K., of which 513,000 involved a funeral that had to be paid for by the bereaved. Many of the remainder were partly or fully funded by prepaid funeral plans.

The average cost of a funeral in the U.K. was estimated to be nearly $5,619 in 2018 — $4,893 for a cremation and $6,270 for a burial — with another $2,613 spent on “discretionary items” such as flowers and catering.

The competition watchdog is focusing on funeral directors who organize funerals, and crematoria, given that more than three-quarters of funerals involve a cremation. The CMA said that these two categories generated revenues of $2 billion in 2017.

The sharp rise in prices had not been justified by better quality of service, the CMA said. It added: “We anticipate continuing high price increases in relation to crematoria services, and we consider that the average price of funeral director services is well above what could be expected in a well-functioning market.”

The National Association of Funeral Directors said it welcomed the in-depth study and that the initial six-month investigation had allowed the regulator only to “scratch the surface” of the sector, drawing conclusions that were therefore inaccurate.

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By Barney Thompson

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