How To Respond Digitally To The Problem Of Funeral Debt

By Peter Billingham

Significant press coverage in the last week highlighted the issue of funeral debt in the UK. This information is not news. However, the findings of the report by the Work and Pensions Committee reveal some possible threats to the funeral industry. Also, some potential opportunities for Funeral Directors in the UK.

In this post, I want to highlight a few details from the report. Primarily, I want to give you some action steps. I want to show how you as a Funeral Director and the owner of a funeral business could respond digitally to this issue now and in the future.

What Is The Press Saying?

Various press statements covered the findings of The Work and Pensions Committee on Support for the Bereaved. The news articles ranged from balanced, and objective reviews to sensationalist headlines. "Grave robbery: Greedy funeral firms could force Brits to paupers' graves!" Headlines like that do nothing to help. We are a professional industry working to support people in an extremely painful position of losing someone they love. Not only that, they make me mad!

One newspaper used the phrase, the "Harrowing" report." I have read the release. You too can read the official report here. Harrowing is not a word that I would use. Would you? There were stories which are sad to know. Though overall, it highlighted the real issues facing the UK funeral industry around this issue of debt.

What Are The Issues?

Royal London estimated that the average cost of a funeral in the UK in 2015 was £3,702. This amount was 3.9% higher than in 2014. Increase well above the rate of inflation. Some cases of funeral hardship reported show families suffered greatly because of the lack of funds to pay for a funeral. It highlighted certain cases where a Funeral Director had taken action to cover or recover the costs already outlaid. Some were not pleasant to read. What it failed to mention, though, were many cases where a Funeral Director has either paid for a service or made the funeral profit free to help a family. However, that would not make good news, would it?

The report defined the current state benefits available. The Department for Work and Pensions administers two different benefits to support bereaved people. The Social Fund Funeral Payments (SFFPs) and bereavement benefits. SFFPs are means-tested, and claimants must meet eligibility criteria to receive payment.  This payment system has not been increased since 2003. The report evidenced that funeral costs were a bit of a postcode lottery, as are so many things today.

How Could This Issue Impact Your Funeral Business?

Simply, news items like this are often overhyped and create bad press for the Funeral Industry. Many people do not see the real issues.

They only see quotes like, "The funeral business is rife with rip-off merchants squeezing cash from vulnerable families."

Arhhhhhhhhh ! That just annoys me and probably you!

That is labeling the majority of very professional, ethical and dedicated funeral workers with the stain from a few bad squashed apples. The issue of price drives customers who may not be on low income to funeral comparison sites. This is not helpful because chasing price alone is always compromising somewhere.

Among the report's findings were 3 Key Points.

  • One of the primary recommendations is that DWP negotiates and agrees on the reasonable cost of a Simple Funeral with the National Association of Funeral Directors and The National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors.
  •  Those funeral homes that agree to offer such a Simple Funeral should be signposted in Government communications and public services for the bereaved. Furthermore, these funeral homes should be accredited as part of a fair funeral scheme.
  •  They recommended that DWP introduce an eligibility checker for Social Fund Funeral Payments. (SFFPs) This gives claimants three key pieces of information: whether they are eligible; how much they could receive; and options for approved local funeral directors and their fees.

How Can You Respond Digitally To The Problem of Funeral Debt?

Here are some ways that you can respond digitally to balance the press around the funeral debt issue.

Highlight prominently on your website you are a member of the Fair Funerals pledge.

Alun Tucker, Executive Chairman of SAIF, said: “SAIF is fully behind the Fair Funerals pledge launched by Quaker Social Action. We are recommending that our members sign. Our members are small, independent funeral directors based in local communities across the UK. They are committed to being open, honest and fair about funeral costs, so it is only natural they’ll want to support this campaign.”

Alan Slater MBE, Chief Executive Officer of the NAFD, said:  “The NAFD broadly supports the principles of the QSA Fair Funeral Pledge. We are particularly pleased to note that it incorporates much of the NAFD’s stringent Code of Practice, which is set out in our own NAFD Funeral Promise that our 3,800 funeral home members abide by.

Interestingly, in the same week that the report was released the East of England Co-op published a press release saying that all 47 branches in that region have signed up to the pledge. This is the largest single sign up for the Fair Funerals campaign to date, launched by anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action in 2014.

Write A Blog/News Item On The True Cost Of A Funeral.

 Do you have a news section or blog on your site? Then post an article from the view of a customer. Write with the focus on, "we know that some people on low incomes struggle, people that they loved and lost still matter to us; we are here to help any way we can. Come and talk to us. We are here to help." A sensitive blog post like this demonstrates that you are aware of the issue and have plans to help families. 

Create a Simple Funeral product now! 

It would appear that the title for the new product that the government wants to promote is going to be called a "Simple Funeral." Create a new product for your funeral business. Could you develop something that would meet the needs of a family looking for an answer? Fewer vehicles, different crematorium times, work with a local celebrant to develop a smaller fixed fee for a "Simple Funeral" package. Take the whole process online. Only communicate with the family by email, phone or Skype. This action alone saves time which can save money. There are many ways you can do this by automating systems online.

Then advertise this product now. You may be thinking that this could devalue your business potential with other customers. Nothing could be further from the truth; it could drive new full paying business to your door! As you become known in your area for helping those on low incomes, your reputation will benefit. Goodwill will ensue. 

Highlight Good News about how you've helped people. 

Have you done services for people in distress? Have you gone beyond the necessary to serve a family in a difficult situation? Then write about it on your website. Post it on social media.

Offer Help With Crowd Funding For A Funeral. 

Check out this post here about how using crowdfunding is growing to cover the costs of a funeral. Get the Digital Ambassador for your funeral business to set up a funding page and show the family how to promote the page through their social media channels. This action has tremendous benefits. Everyone in their networks gets to see how you are helping the family. Social proof like this spreads like wildfire. It will raise the digital presence of your funeral business tremendously. 

Conclusion

Do something!

By taking action on these digital ideas, you will differentiate your business from other funeral firms in the area. This issue will gain momentum and is another example how the funeral industry is going to be challenged by changes in culture. You can be ahead of the pack if you respond digitally. By developing digital plans, you can streamline the process which saves money for you and the customer. 

Do you agree with my ideas? Do you think that funeral debt is an issue that won't affect your funeral business? Please write to me and let me know your thoughts. 

Can I Help?

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  • Do you need someone to write blogs for you?
  • Do you have a member of staff that could be a Digital Ambassador but needs training?
  • Do you need help by consulting on your existing web presence and suggesting action plans to create a digital platform online for your funeral business?

Then please contact me. I would love to hear from you.