The boss of the UK’s largest funeral provider, the Co-Op Group, has admitted the industry has taken advantage of people’s grief in the past. Steve Murrells said price wasn’t on the agenda for people arranging a funeral – which created “the wrong behaviour in the industry”.
Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a major investigation into the sector. The CMA said it had “serious concerns” about above-inflation price rises.
The Co-Op has recently launched a number of affordable products, including a cremation without ceremony product, which Steve Murrells says is already proving popular.
“One in thirty of our funerals are already being taken up in that form,” he said.
However, speaking to BBC 5 live’s Wake Up To Money Boardroom Stories podcast he said that changes were needed.
“For too long the industry kept putting prices up. People felt obliged to spend it – they kind of felt it represented the importance of that person’s life.”
He said that 12-18 months ago “I felt we needed to make funerals more affordable for people at a time of austerity and of sorrow”.
He added that attitudes to funerals are also different: “People’s interpretation at the saddest point is changing, from one of grief to celebration.”
The average cremation fee was £737 last year, with the fees having risen by 84% in the past 10 years.
The CMA found that people typically spent between £3,000 and £5,000 organising a funeral, with the average price of the core elements now standing at £4,271.
Mr Murrells said the Co-op had been pushing for an investigation. “We think this market needs regulation. This is a caring market that needs to provide the best service at the most difficult of circumstances,” he said. “You or I could open up a funeral business tomorrow with no qualifications or regulation. It’s crazy.”
People arranging a funeral could save more than £1,000 by shopping around for a funeral, the CMA said. However, the regulator pointed out that grieving families would be distressed and not in a position to do so. Most prices were not available or clear online, it added.
The CMA also said that smaller funeral directors had tried to keep the costs low, but that larger chains had consistently increased prices.
Mr Murrells said: “I can’t put right the way the market ran itself in the past. It’s important for us to lead in this space now though, because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve been bringing prices down and making them more affordable.”