Coronavirus: Pandemic forces regulator to abandon measures to fix UK’s funeral market
The competition regulator says the coronavirus pandemic has forced it to abandon a series of measures it was considering to fix the UK’s funeral market.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it would be unsafe, given the COVID-19 crisis, to take forward much of its findings on a sector that, it said, was “not working well”.
It had previously identified “rip-off” charges among operators and its investigation, first launched in 2018, found inflation-busting increases in costs going back over a decade.
The CMA had been considering measures such as price caps but it admitted on Thursday that its in-depth inquiry had been blown off course by the pandemic.
It had not only hampered access to funeral and crematorium providers, the watchdog said, but it also noted that the industry had been under great pressure to handle a surge in death rates and meet the needs of grieving families amid tough funeral-related restrictions.
As such, the watchdog said at this stage it would only require funeral directors and crematoria to provide more clarity on the prices of the services and packages they offer.
The CMA added that it might launch a supplementary market investigation following the conclusion of the coronavirus crisis.
Shares in Dignity, the UK’s largest listed funeral provider, were more than 6% up in early Thursday dealing in response to the announcement.
Martin Coleman, the chairman of the regulator’s funeral inquiry panel, insisted the door was being held open to the prospect of future price controls.
“Given the inherently distressing circumstances in which people arrange a funeral, we want to make sure they can be confident that they are not being overcharged and that their loved one is cared for properly – this is what our
investigation has focused on.
“The later stages of the investigation have been conducted in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a tragic increase in death rates and has materially changed how funerals are carried out.
“This has had a big impact on how far we can immediately address some of the issues we have identified.
“But there are remedies that are feasible and effective in the short term.
“We are proposing a package of ‘sunlight’ remedies which will shine a light for consumers on the pricing and practices of the sector and make sure that deceased people are cared for properly.”
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