Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855, and has been trading independently in the town ever since. The business, which remains family-run today, now has three further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and prides itself on a strong reputation of honesty and integrity. This week, the UK funeral industry becomes subject to regulations set out by the Competition and Markets Authority. Manager, Abi Pattenden, shares what that means for Freeman Brothers and the wider funeral industry.
Did you know that anyone can legally trade as a funeral director? Are you aware that anyone can claim to be one and that there is nothing stopping them from doing so? If you are surprised by this, you aren’t alone – many people believe that the funeral industry is regulated.
On 16th September 2021, the ways that funeral directors in the UK operate become regulated for the first time when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s Funeral Markets Order comes into law. This is something that we have been preparing for since the CMA first announced that it would be investigating the funeral industry back in 2018. It is a process that we as a business chose to engage in fully from the start, as we wanted to be sure that the CMA was aware how funeral directors such as ourselves operate, and to demonstrate that we are always happy to receive feedback and be transparent about our daily practices.
This involved myself and Peter Freeman – who owns and has overall responsibility for Freeman Brothers – compiling reports and offering feedback on early results published by the CMA. As I’m sure you can imagine, coronavirus has had an impact on the CMA’s progress – due to the pandemic restricting travel and ability to host meetings, the CMA’s recommendations and, ultimately, the order they’ve put in place, has been slightly different to what they may have achieved had it not been for the virus. In either scenario, we are confident to comply, and so when the details of the regulations were announced earlier this summer, we set to work in order to make sure that we met the required deadline.
The differences that you will see in a funeral director’s offerings will depend on how open each funeral director has been about their prices in the past. For a company like Freeman Brothers, which has always had prices on its website and available as price lists to take away – and has always been willing to give you an estimate of costs if you have wanted one – the differences are minimal and are mostly about how these prices will be displayed, as every funeral director now has to offer a comparable standard funeral and have posters showing its price. Some funeral directors, however, haven’t operated this way and so there will be substantial changes to their practices.
Freeman Brothers has always encouraged customers to compare products and services between different companies. We firmly believe that what we offer – service of the highest quality, from a company with over 166 years of local experience – is hard to beat. However, it’s important that people choose the right company for them, and comparisons are made equally, which is why this new regulation is good news for us – the industry as a whole will have to behave as transparently as we always have done.
Transparency is one of Freeman Brothers’ core values, and another is aiming to educate people on all sorts of information about funerals. This month, we are launching a brand new website and in support of this goal, it also incorporates a tool enabling you to find out how much a funeral service might cost – this is a first in the UK funeral industry (to the best of our knowledge!). The price comparison tool is free to use and does not capture any personal data – there is no requirement to enter any contact details; visitors to the website will build their own quotation by answering questions about their funeral wishes, and the cost will be displayed on screen only. We’d love to hear what you think about this feature in particular – we sought feedback from some independent parties during the development phase, and are excited that it is now publicly available for use. Our hope is that users find the tool insightful and thought-provoking, and we welcome your thoughts when it launches on 16th September.
Other changes that we’ve been asked to implement as part of the Order are: making various items available in the form of leaflets to take away, posters in our windows, and A2 posters inside each of our offices. In addition, price lists and other pertinent information must be reachable within one click of our website’s homepage. Funeral directors must now offer a Standard Attended Funeral (if they ordinarily offer attended funerals – there are some services which only offer unattended funerals and this does not apply to them) and a Standard Unattended Funeral.
This means that customers can compare prices like for like within these specified packages. Funeral directors are still able to offer their own bespoke packages – if a funeral differs from either of the Standardised offerings, then customers are able to build a bespoke funeral with their funeral director, as we have always done. All customers should be informed of whether or not these packages apply to them, and what the implications of them are.
These regulations have meant that we have had to set out our prices in a specific manner, requiring us to redesign much of our literature. Our colleagues have been trained in how to communicate the new information to customers, and what they need to be making people aware of when they first contact us.
If you do require the services of a funeral director, you should be aware that any company, large or small, is legally obliged to provide you with information about their prices for a standardised funeral. This has to be available in their branch and on their website. You should also remember that not all long-established companies are owned by the same people they once were. Freeman Brothers is still operated by the original family who started the company in 1855 but this is incredibly unusual.
You should never feel worried or concerned to ask questions about a company and how it operates – at Freeman Brothers we always say our advice is free, and freely given. We are lucky enough to have a large quantity of five star online reviews from satisfied customers. Our main priority is that anyone who is bereaved receives the service that is right for them – and, from now on, whoever you choose, that service should be as transparent as ours has always been.