By Melanie Wright
The Government is consulting on tougher regulation for the pre-paid funeral plan sector amid fears that many vulnerable people are being pressured and misled by providers.
More than 1.3m people currently have funeral plans in the UK, with annual sales up around 245% between 2006 and 2017. Plans are popular because they enable you to pay for your funeral up-front, effectively fixing the cost at today’s prices. They also allow you to outline what sort of send-off you would like, so that your loved ones don’t have to guess, for example, what readings or music you might have wanted.
What the Government is proposing
Currently, there is no statutory regulation for the funeral planning market. Consumers do have some protection if they take out a plan from a provider registered with the Funeral Planning Authority, as this means the provider has to abide by a Code of Conduct.
However, this Code is not legally binding, and not all funeral plan providers are registered with the FPA. The Treasury is considering bringing the market under the supervisions of the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury said: “There are thousands of pre-paid funeral plans bought each year, and most providers are fair and legitimate. But tougher regulation will ensure robust standards are enforced for all plan providers and protect individuals and their families if things go wrong.”
Last summer, funeral plan provider Dignity conducted a report with research and ratings agency Fairer Finance, which highlighted misleading sales practices in the prepaid funeral market. The report found that many consumers do not understand the differences between plan types, are confused by industry terms and are unaware of exactly what is and isn’t covered.
Simon Cox, head of insight and external communications at Dignity, said "We have been calling for regulation for many years and recently conducted some research that showed that whilst improvements are evident in the market, since our joint report with Fairer Finance last July, misleading sales practices continue.
“Our advice and preference would be for a statutory FPA, with all firms compelled to register with the regulator, but if this is not feasible, FCA regulation would be preferable to the status quo."
What to watch for
If you’re considering buying a pre-paid funeral plan, make sure you only deal with providers who are registered with the FPA.
Always check the small print carefully too so that you understand what is and isn’t covered, especially as some plans are more comprehensive than others. For example, some may only cover basic costs, such as a simple coffin, whereas others may provide broader cover, including limousine transport to the funeral, plus an allowance for third party costs such as cremation fees.
Radio Times is partnered with Dignity Funeral Planning - find out more here.