People who use Google to search for the best funeral plan deals are being misled
A damning report has raised concerns that the elderly are being pressured into buying funeral plans that could leave their families out of pocket when they die.
Every year hundreds of thousands of people fork out as much as £4,000 for plans promising to cover the cost of their funeral so their family doesn’t face a big bill.
But a report obtained by Money Mail has raised fears that people who use Google to search for the best deals are being misled.
In the worst cases, they could be buying policies that will leave their loved ones with shortfalls of hundreds of pounds for the cost of cremation, burial, doctors and ministers.
Their family members would have to then step in and cover the extra costs.
A mystery shop on behalf of a major funeral plan provider examined dozens of websites that promise cheap deals. It found evidence that:
- Call centre staff are harassing customers who enter their details, with one agent calling ten times in four hours.
- Sales staff are baffling customers with exaggerated and even false claims that conceal the true costs people could face.
- People in their late 60s and 70s are being pressured to agree to home visits.
- Supposedly independent comparison sites are only offering customers access to a small number of plans and are failing to explain the pros and cons of each deal.
- Websites are claiming to sell plans offered by reputable companies, such as Co-operative and Dignity, when they don’t.
Money Mail understands that the Treasury plans to launch a consultation in the summer that could result in a crackdown on the £3.3 billion funeral plan market, which is currently unregulated.
James Daley, managing director of Fairer Finance, who is meeting ministers this month to discuss how the market should be regulated, says: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing that there are still firms in the market misleading vulnerable customers.
The sector needs to be properly regulated as a matter of urgency.’
Around 200,000 people buy funeral plans each year. But independent research, commissioned by funeral provider Dignity, raises concerns about the way some plans are being sold.
The researchers, who work separately from Dignity, drew up a list of more than 70 websites that claim to compare the cost of funeral plans, and last month posed as customers aged between 67 and 75.
Funeral plan sales staff are baffling customers with exaggerated and even false claims that conceal the true costs people could face
These sites typically ask customers to enter their telephone number for a callback from one of their advisers.
The website then passes the lead on to a sales adviser, who acts as a middleman. The adviser could be based in a large third-party call centre ,or may work on behalf of a smaller business such as a will- writing firm or solicitor.
In some cases, researchers received a callback five minutes after entering their details.
When they checked the calling telephone number online, some had been recorded as previously being used by claims management firms.
One of numbers had been looked up more than 800 times on the website ‘who called me’, which tracks nuisance callers.
Many of the websites claim to compare deals from a range of providers, including major firms such as Co-operative and Dignity as well as lesser-known names such as Pride Planning and Safe Hands.
Simon Cox, of Dignity, which is pushing for stronger regulation, says: ‘We know that many of these websites use our logo, when in fact they have no relationship with us whatsoever, and often sell the leads to whoever is willing to pay for them without any comparison whatsoever.
‘Where we find these sites, we will write to them and ask them to stop suggesting that they represent us in any way.’
According to the research, the websites typically pushed the same plan each time they were mystery shopped.
None of the firms behind the plans that were offered had signed up to the voluntary regulator, the Funeral Planning Authority, whose members must abide by a code of practice.
Some website staff claimed to have searched the market for the best deal based on the customer’s age and location — even though funeral plan costs do not vary like this.
A number also suggested prices change all the time, when in reality they are only updated once or twice a year.
One who recommended a Capital Life plan told the researchers: ‘I don’t want [the price] to increase. People who call back always think they should have done it sooner.’
Some offered shopping vouchers as an incentive to sign up, or insisted on taking a deposit that locked the customer into the deal.
Funeral costs have risen by 24 per cent in five years to an average of £4,078, according to insurer Sunlife
When one researcher refused to pay a £50 deposit, an adviser tried to negotiate by reducing the deposit to £10.
Some advisers insisted on a home visit. ‘This is much better done face-to-face,’ a researcher was told by an agent which had recommended a Pride Planning product.
Funeral costs have risen by 24 per cent in five years to an average of £4,078, according to insurer Sunlife.
Sales staff routinely exaggerated this. One, who recommended a Safe Hands funeral plan, said: ‘They’ll be £10,000 in ten years — I don’t want my wife worrying about it.’
Another, who also tried to sell a Safe Hands deal, said: ‘Many funerals are going unpaid these days.’
Customers were told they could ‘freeze’ the cost at today’s prices, with one agent, who recommended a Capital Life plan, saying that would mean ‘the children won’t have to get loans’.
Another, who recommended a Prosperous Life plan, said: ‘Freeze and cap the cost of a funeral so when you pass away, no one receives a bill.’
Yet while most plans cover the cost of the funeral director in full, they typically only offer a contribution towards what are known as third-party costs, which include cremation, burial, ministers’ and doctors’ fees.
Many agents said all plans were the same, so customers should choose the cheapest. This isn’t true. Some plans, for example, will not cover the cost of a limousine for family members, or restrict when you can have a funeral service.
Some ‘comparison’ websites had the same director as the funeral plan product they recommended to the mystery shoppers.
For example, John Murtagh is listed as director for comparison site Latelifeplanning, and also for the Prosperous Life funeral plans that website recommended.
One website, Gocomparefuneral plans.com, uses green lettering similar to the GoCompare.com site known for its TV adverts, even though the two are not linked.
Graeme McAusland, chief executive of the Funeral Planning Authority, says: ‘The poor behaviour and malpractice which is negatively impacting customers comes from a small number of providers not registered with us.’
Safe Hands says it ‘unreservedly and entirely condemns any high-pressure selling practices by anyone promoting its funeral plans’.
A legal representative of Capital Life says: ‘Our client is most concerned to ensure representatives engaged to sell its funeral plans operate within the company’s guidelines. The concerns raised would fall outside those guidelines.’
Pride Planning says it has no commercial relationships with any of the websites, which only ‘generate leads’.
A spokesman for Prosperous Life says the firm stopped selling funeral plans months ago.
Gocomparefuneralplans.com took down its website after Money Mail got in touch.