Almost every advert for funeral plans boasts of providing ‘peace of mind’ for you and your family.
These pre-paid deals are supposed to prevent loved ones being hit with a big bill when you die, and protect against rising prices.
And as one television commercial put it recently, it means that ‘when the time does come there’s no confusion’.
Pre-paid funeral plan deals are supposed to prevent loved ones being hit with a big bill when you die, and protect against rising prices
Yet for thousands who have diligently forked out around £4,000 for a funeral plan, the reality could not be more different.
A major industry clampdown has thrown many providers into disarray and customers now face months of chaos.
Regulation is long overdue, and desperately needed to stamp out shameful sales practices and unfair charges.
It will also alleviate concerns about the financial soundness of some firms, which could mean they are unable to pay out when customers die.
But while big firms, such as Dignity and Co-Op, are almost certain to get the green light to continue trading after new rules come into force on July 29, scores of smaller suppliers have yet to apply for authorisation from the City watchdog. And there is no guarantee those that have will be approved.
This means they will not be able to deliver the funeral plans paid for by customers. And as the Mail revealed on Saturday, it could leave the elderly and vulnerable, who thought they were doing the right thing, at risk of losing significant sums of cash.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hopes many of these smaller providers will be scooped up by larger firms.
It is in their interest as a scandal of this magnitude could irreparably damage trust in the industry. Dignity has now pledged to rescue firms which fail to meet the regulator’s strict new checks.
While that’s good news for worried customers, it’s a bold move given no one yet knows the scale of the problem.
Insiders suggest as many as 40,000 plans could be unfunded, which would require a multi-million pound bailout fund. There is also a risk it could encourage unscrupulous firms to make hay while the sun shines, knowing someone else will pick up the bill.
So it is vital Dignity moves fast to back up its promise with a detailed plan.
With some firms proving impossible to pin down, customers urgently need somewhere to go if they cannot get the answers or reassurance they need from their own provider.
The FCA says it is keeping a close eye on any marketing activity by companies with no intention of applying for authorisation.
And it has issued a stark warning urging consumers not to purchase a plan from Safe Hands after it withdrew its application last week. It means anyone thinking about buying a funeral plan before August should now tread carefully.
You can check what companies have applied for authorisation on the City watchdog’s website here.
But you may want to consider steering clear of all but the biggest firms until new protections are in place. Until they are, there is no guarantee of compensation should your provider later fail.
And the last thing grieving families, already dealing with an avalanche of paperwork, need is to be chasing a defunct firm for money.
If you have a funeral plan you are concerned about, write to me at the email address below or Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.
Gas moans direct
Since I presented Centrica’s top boss Chris O’Shea with our Wooden Spoon Award for shoddy service, many of you have asked for his email address.
He proudly told me he replies to every customer email he receives. But to avoid his inbox being deluged, I agreed not to print his email address in this newspaper.
I have since asked British Gas if they could provide a different address for those readers who, like me, despise online chat services.
The best I could get was a link to an online complaint form (britishgas.co.uk/help-and-support/complaints /gas-and-electricity).
The firm claims this is best as it ensures they get all the correct details needed to handle the case straight away. Alternatively, you can call 0333 009 5784 but ‘lines are busy’, I’m told.
Failing that, if you have a complaint you can’t resolve, send it to me and I’ll do my best to help.