The UK’s primary competition and consumer authority has said that the scale of funeral price rises “does not currently appear to be justified by cost increases or quality improvements”.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called for a full-scale investigation into the issue, which could lead to funeral directors being forced to lower their prices. The claims come following a six-month market study the CMA carried out into the funeral sector six months ago. The study indicates problems with the market that have led to above-inflation price rises for more than a decade.

A market investigation would be carried out by an independent group of CMA panel members.

In general, people spend between £3,000 and £5,000 organising a funeral. The price of the essential elements has increased by more than two thirds in the last ten years, which is almost three times the rate of inflation. Organising a funeral now costs people on the lowest income nearly 40 percent of their annual outgoings—and more than they spend on food, clothing and energy all together.

Higher prices

The report adds that people could save more than £1,000 by looking at other choices in their local area, but organising a funeral means people are usually distressed and not in a position to do so, making it easier for some funeral directors to charge higher prices. The prices aren’t often available online, so it is difficult to compare.

The CMA says some of the smaller funeral director firms have tried to keep their prices low, but the larger chains in particular have implemented policies of consistently high year-on-year price increases. While some of them have introduced lower cost funeral options, they don’t go far enough to make up for years of above-inflation price hikes. The CMA’s research also indicates most people who organise a funeral “remain extremely vulnerable to exploitation and future rises in charges”.

At present, cremations make up 77 percent of funerals, but there are limited choices for most people in their local area. Fees charged by crematoria have increased by 84 percent in the past ten years, more than three times the rate of inflation.

Protection at a vulnerable time

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “People mourning the loss of a loved one are extremely vulnerable and at risk of being exploited. We need to make sure that they are protected at such an emotional time, and we’re very concerned about the substantial increases in funeral prices over the past decade.

“We now feel that the full powers of a market investigation are required to address the issues we have found. We also want to hear from people who have experienced poor practices in the sector, so that we can take any action needed to fix these problems.”

Danny Curran, Finders International’s founder and managing director, added: “The CMA’s findings are shocking—but not news to us. We know many people struggle with the costs of a funeral; an added stress when dealing with a tragic event.

“The burden of funeral costs was what motivated us to set up the Finders International Funeral Fund, where we subsidise the cost of a public health funeral of someone who dies in local authority care and who doesn’t appear to have any estate or a relative who can pay for the funeral. You can read about the service here.”