The UK's competition watchdog has shelved plans to bring in price caps for funeral services, due to unprecedented demand for burials and cremations amid the Coronavirus crisis.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) opened an investigation into the sector last year, over concerns about the costs and quality of care.
But in a statement issued today, the CMA announced that the 'exceptional circumstances' of the COVID-19 pandemic had impeded the investigation, in part due to the 'unprecedented' demand for funeral services.
This is despite its findings that the funeral providers have raised the cost of services above the cost of living for more than a decade and often fail to provide grieving families with clear information about the cost of their products.
Given the inherently distressing circumstances in which people arrange a funeral, we want to make sure they can be confident that they are not being overcharged and that their loved one is cared for properly – this is what our investigation has focused on. The later stages of the investigation have been conducted in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a tragic increase in death rates and has materially changed how funerals are carried out. This has had a big impact on how far we can immediately address some of the issues we have identifiedSaid Martin Coleman, who chaired the enquiry.
To date, there have been 46,672 Coronavirus deaths confirmed in Britain and 342, 286 infections.
In the place of sweeping reforms, funeral providers will, for now, need to provide customers with key information about the cost of their services and submit quarterly financial data to the regulator.
It is hoped this will help bereaved families who, CMA said, tend to opt for the most familiar or easily available service when purchasing funeral services.
Because pricing and information about funerals have not been provided in a consistent way before, this has made it hard for families to know whether they are being given a fair price.
The UK's funeral sector is not currently regulated, which the CMA said allows some funeral directors to provide "unacceptably low levels of care for the deceased".
However, the decision to shelve wide-ranging reform plans amid the pandemic was welcomed by some in the sector.
We are deeply appreciative to the Authority for recognising the challenges faced by the funeral sector as a result of the coronavirus pandemic since early March 2020 and are pleased that an earlier proposal to introduce price controls, which would be inappropriate and potentially highly damaging at this time of restricted funeral services, has been shelved. It has been an incredibly challenging year for the funeral profession, which has faced a combination of increased costs linked to PPE, additional staff hours, and temporary mortuary storage, and reduced funeral prices as a result of restricted funerals.said a statement by The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors
One of the UK's largest funeral providers, Dignity, reported an 11% rise in profit last month as demand soared amid the breakout of the virus.
The CMA said its decision to postpone sector-wide reform was a result of a 'serious dilemma'.
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