Kath Inkpen works as a Campaigns and Research Co-ordinator at Citizens Advice St Helens - she found out first hand how difficult it was to get funeral directors to talk about price.

By Kath Inkpen

Last year I had to organise a funeral for a very close relative. Before going to the funeral director, I’d prepared myself; I knew I wanted to stay in control and not have decisions made for me. I thought this would help me have more control over costs.

What I found was that even though I’d planned what I wanted, it was very difficult to avoid unexpected costs.

Funeral costs unexplained

The funeral director I spoke to was very pleasant and sympathetic but at no time were the costs of the funeral explained to me. I had no idea of the final cost until several days after the funeral despite asking several times. It didn’t feel like my open questions about cost were expected or even welcomed by the funeral director.

My experience left me thinking about how many bereaved people there must be out there who don’t get a funeral within their means, either because they don’t know how to ask for one or because they don’t feel able to. Asking about prices when we’re arranging a funeral can be really daunting. Sometimes we feel it’s disrespectful to talk about money when someone has died. We don’t shop around. And as my experience shows, funeral directors aren’t always as open as they could be about prices and the majority still don’t have prices on their website.

At Citizens Advice St Helens we see people on a daily basis who can’t afford to even raise the deposit for a funeral. It’s clear to us in the work we do there is an increasing problem with funeral poverty. We also see people who have been left with funeral bills that they cannot afford, and sadly some who haven’t been able to pay off funeral debts and now have bailiffs at the door.

My colleague Michael Egan and I met with the local Council to give evidence of the problems that our clients face on a daily basis. As a result, an updated partnership was arranged with four local firms who agreed to provide a funeral service at a reasonable cost. A leaflet was produced fully explaining basic costs and possible extras. This leaflet is readily available to all our residents.

Citizens Advice St Helens takes a stand

As members of the Funeral Poverty Alliance we wanted to see what we could do locally to help people find funerals that were within their budget. The Fair Funerals pledge asks funeral directors to do their bit to help tackle funeral poverty. When they sign the pledge, they’re committing:

To recognise that funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.

To help people to find funerals that are within their means.

To be open about their most affordable options, including third party costs:

- in initial conversations

- within their price lists

- on their website.

In St Helens we decided to try to encourage all our local funeral directors to sign up to the pledge.

A meeting was arranged by the Council’s Bereavement Office so that we could discuss the Fair Funeral pledge with the funeral directors and urge them to sign.  Representatives from the following Funeral Directors attended our meeting:

FW Marsh;

Fisher Dixon Funeral Services;

Alan Jones Funerals;

Dooleys Funeral Services;

Kane Funeral Services.

Co-operative Funeral Care

These are the funeral directors so far who have signed the Fair Funerals pledge:

Kane Funeral Services

FW Marsh Funeral Services

Co-operative Funeralcare

This is still ongoing and we will continue to encourage other funeral directors in St Helens to sign the pledge.

If you’re a funeral director and you want to sign the pledge, click here.

If you want to find out how to encourage your local funeral directors to sign the pledge, click here.

To find out which funeral directors in your area have signed the pledge, click here.