Watchdog investigates as Asian funeral services explain high costs


DEATH DUTIES: Cemetery
charges and optional extras such as flowers are among the factors driving up costs, funeral directors say
DEATH DUTIES: Cemetery charges and optional extras such as flowers are among the factors driving up costs, funeral directors say

by LAUREN CODLING

ASIAN funeral directors have explained a rise in the costs of the facilities and services they offer, as it was announced that the UK funerals industry was under investigation for high fees.

Last month, after finding that prices had risen three times above inflation for more than a decade, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it would launch an investigation into the £2 billion-a-year funerals market for prices it deemed unjustifiable.

According to estimates, an average funeral costs £4,271 (excluding discretionary items), an increase of 68 per cent over the past 10 years.

The average cremation fee is £737, up 84 per cent, compared with inflation of 25 per cent over the time period. Cremations account for 77 per cent of funeral services.

Abu Khalid is the manager of Haji Taslim Funerals in east London. Having worked in the business for 21 years, Khalid believes the majority of the cost comes from cemetery fees, which have consistently increased since he began working in the industry.

“Our prices have not gone up in the past 12-15 years,” Khalid told Eastern Eye last week. “An average funeral fee from our company is around £800. But that is without the cemetery costs, which, when included, would increase the price to an average of £3,800.”

Some funeral directors have noted high costs are due to cemetery fees

The fees from the company would include a coffin, transportation and washing and preparation of the body as part of a traditional Muslim funeral ritual.

The British-Bangladeshi said the cost also depended on what the family chose, in terms of what extras they preferred.

This could include a horse-drawn carriage or flowers, Khalid added.

Zafar Syed is the funeral services cocoordinator for registered charity Noor Ul Islam. The organisation provides a variety of services including welfare, social and educational assistance, plus providing religious facilities and funeral services.

Syed echoed Khalid’s views about the typical fees charged, which also included shrouding, transportation and bathing the body. It currently stands at £325.

However, the second element of costs was down to the grave charges, depending on the cemetery, he said.

Syed told Eastern Eye that the two cemeteries they use – Waltham Forest and Gardens of Peace in Ilford – charge £1,000 and £2,975 respectively.

“We do not have any control on prices which are set by the cemeteries themselves,” Syed explained.

He added that he was surprised at the reports of rising costs, although he suggested the fees charged by cemeteries had a lot to do with the increase.

“As space in cemeteries becomes harder to find, especially in London, we expect the cost to naturally rise due to supply and demand,” he said.

According to estimates, an average funeral costs £4,271 (excluding discretionary items), an increase of 68 per cent over the past decade

Jay Tailor, of Indian funeral services Chandu Tailor and Son, said a typical Asian funeral costs between £3,000-£5,000 on average, and could depend on extra options, such as flowers and cars.

And though he agreed that fees had risen comparatively, year on year, he claimed they did not increase at a rapid pace.

“When you look at it over a 10-year span, it can feel like it [has increased a lot], but it is across a long period of time,” Tailor told Eastern Eye.

He revealed his business prices were revised every six months to cover manufacturing costs of items out of their control, such as coffins and administration.

The CMA said consumers could save more than £1,000 by comparing options in their area, but as they were usually distressed due to the circumstances, they sometimes were unable to do so.

Prices were also often not available online, making it hard to compare them.

It added that those on the lowest incomes could spend 40 per cent of their annual outgoing on high funeral fees.

When questioned about support they offered to families unable to afford high prices, all three funeral directors said they would help those who needed it.

It is thought customers could save over £1,000 by looking at a range of choices in their local area, but can be too distressed to look elsewhere

Syed said the company’s finance committee would look into an individual case and award a grant which could cover the funeral costs, while Khalid claimed he was happy to recommend a cheaper alternative if it was required.

“People are vulnerable when they lose someone,” he said. “Personally, we are quite cheap in terms of what we can offer, but people can go to mosques who can offer it cheaper than what we can.”

He added: “We do advise them from a Muslim ethnical point of view and tell them not to waste their money.”

Tailor, whose business usually serves around 400 people annually, said if a family had genuine circumstances where they were struggling with money, they would offer the lowest cost option.

For instance, some crematoriums have an early morning option which was cheaper, so an earlier time and a reduced rate would be offered to the family.

Khalid, who estimated his company dealt with 300-400 families every year who required funeral services, said they did not upgrade their services very often.

But if a family requested a certain type of coffin, he explained, they were happy to talk to suppliers.

“As a company, we aren’t the type to go out and buy brand new cars to up the prices,” he said. “It is more just about pleasing the customer.”

In 2016, a discussion paper on crematoria provision and facilities was released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in response to concerns about respecting the cultural sensitivities of different faiths.

It aimed to establish whether funeral services were deemed suitable to meet the demand and cultural requirements of all communities in the UK, including Sikh and Hindu groups.

Lord Jitesh Gadhia, a Tory peer and investment banker, said he had not heard any more about the review and did not believe work was being done on the issue.

The MHCLG did not respond to a request for comment.