Thoughts on funeral poverty from SAIF’s President Paul Allcock

February 9, 2017   //   No Comments

On 17 January, I attended a round-table ministerial meeting with Caroline Nokes MP and representatives of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The meeting was part of the ongoing review of the Funeral Expenses Payment. The Minister was very keen to interact with the funeral directors present, and it gave both SAIF and the NAFD an opportunity to make ourselves heard.

The time was limited, and subsequently there were many things left unsaid. There is, however, the continued opportunity for us to make proposals and to offer new ideas to help improve the current application process and to influence the review of the payment.  Much of the conversation at the meeting surrounded funeral poverty.

It has always been the case, in my 33 years as a funeral director, that one of the main roles is to act as an agent for our clients. To handle the payment of all associated expenses on the client’s behalf. The funeral director then invoices the client for the funeral to claim back both the funeral director’s charges, as well as all third-party expenses.  In my experience, the third-party costs in recent years have increased significantly more than funeral directors’ charges. As such, the percentage historically of around 30% of the overall funeral invoice being third-party expenses has, in some cases, risen to as much as 70%. However, it is commonly nearer 45-50% of the final invoice.  Subsequently, if there is any default on payment for the funeral, it is the funeral director alone who is left with a bad debt, even though, as stated above, as much as 70% of the invoice was not for funeral director services.

In recent years, this has become an ever-increasing problem with funeral poverty on the rise and many funeral directors are finding themselves in danger of going out of business. This is particularly the case for smaller independent funeral directors who do not have the resources to stand a debt from associated businesses on behalf of a client.   As a result of this problem, many funeral directors now ask for the disbursements to be paid in advance.

This can then cause a great deal of distress for a family to have to find a substantial amount of money before the funeral director will do anything to assist them. This often results in the family searching for a funeral director who does not require disbursements in advance to allow them to start the funeral arrangement process.

There is subsequently a great need to reassess the current common practice and to find a way in which the burden of this debt is shared among all parties concerned with a funeral and not simply left for the funeral director to get into deeper financial insecurity.

It has recently been stated that any default on payment to the proposed new medical examiner will be stood by the authorities, so that no funeral director would be in debt for this part of the funeral. I intend to make proposals to all cemeteries and crematoria, with ways that they can also support our funeral businesses by taking responsibility for their share of any debt. Many churches will waive fees if it is known that there is a family in financial difficulty. And in these times of particular poverty, it is essential that we work together for the good of the bereaved and all of our businesses.

I would not expect companies to waive their fees, but I do think it is fair to expect them to share responsibility for the debt. I would be very happy to receive any and all comments and suggestions from members on this subject.

On a much brighter note, the SAIF AGM and Banquet Weekend is now fast approaching, and so also is my time in office as your President. I am thoroughly looking forward to the whole weekend and meeting many of you for both business and social interaction.

I am also looking forward with a little trepidation to the days leading up to the AGM when I shall be cycling from Berwick-on-Tweed to Harrogate.

Paul Allcock, SAIF National President