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Alarm at council’s one-stop funeral shop move

A council’s move to look at offering a ‘one-stop-shop, affordable funeral service’ has alarmed the funeral world, with a leading member of one of the biggest trade bodies pointing out that the council rates paid by funeral directors and memorial masons may end up subsidising their competition.

Several professional associations have come together to discuss the ramifications of the Localism Act 2011, which allows local authorities to do “anything that individuals generally may do” and offer a service on a “cost recovery basis”.

The Society of Allied Independent Funeral directors (SAIF), the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) have engaged the services of a QC to interpret the detail of the Act and determine what action might be taken to oppose it.

Richard Edwards of SAIF, said his organisation understood that North East Lincolnshire Council (NELC) was receiving government funding to carry out a financial assessment to assess the viability of such a scheme. And he questioned whether the council’s aim to provide ‘affordable’ funerals implied that funerals carried out in North East Lincolnshire were not affordable: “If that were the case, the bad debt situation would be untenable and funeral directors would disappear from the scene,” he said. “And has that happened? No.”

Richard added: “Like most local authorities, NELC has not missed the chance to take advantage of vulnerable families and inflate its funeral-related prices for burials and cremations by many more times the annual inflation rate.

“This might be the perfect opportunity for funeral directors to refuse to pay for burial and cremation services on their clients’ behalf and let the local authorities collect their own debts.

“It cannot be fair that funeral directors and memorial masons, who pay rates to their local authority, can be expected to subsidise that authority to compete against themselves.

“It is relatively early days in this saga but at SAIF, we urge funeral directors with knowledge that their local authority plans to set up a commercial business where a local service already exists, to notify us immediately so that we can unite with kindred associations to try to stave off this unfair threat to our future livelihood.”

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