It was with mixed emotions that I read the Mail on Sunday’s report on the illegal tactics one prepaid funeral plan provider is reported to have been using to so say ‘bully’ customers into buying their prepaid funeral plans.
Apparently undercover journalists revealed that Avalon Funeral Plans, the company backed by John Cleese in the recent ‘grim reaper’ TV advert, has used aggressive and illegal tactics to bully customers into buying their funeral plans; something the grim reaper himself would be ashamed of.
Avalon Funeral Plans uncovered
Investigators secretly filmed inside ‘Plan my Funeral’, the Cheshire based Avalon call centre where 70 employees are reported to have called tens of thousands of people every week. The scathing article reported how members of staff:
- Boasted how they goaded pensioners with repeated nuisance calls if they refused to buy a funeral plan
- Breached data protection laws by tricking the elderly into handing over private information
- Used emotional pressure tactics to get customers to buy an Avalon funeral plan
- Misled customers on exactly what funeral services are included in the plan
In fact the article goes on to list a whole host of sickening examples and videos of extreme bad practice, miss-selling and illegal activity that has resulted in the Avalon call centre being closed down pending further investigation.
Abuse of the vulnerable
Understandably the topic of dying is a delicate one; one that should be treated with respect and dignity, which is what makes this article all the more upsetting.
The decision to buy a funeral plan is an important and costly one; something that you can’t afford to get wrong, which is why it takes time and consideration. You need the facts in front of you to digest; not some pushy sales person trying every tactic in the ‘dodgy salesman’s handbook’ to get you to commit there and then, with those immortal words ‘if you buy today you can always cancel during the cooling off period’.
Truth be known I wasn’t surprised when I read the report, as we have been made aware of the bad practice some funeral plan companies adopt on numerous occasions from the customers we speak to; not to mention the horror stories we hear from our more honourable colleagues in the funeral plan industry who are working hard to ensure customers are treated fairly.
It was if anything a bit of a time bomb waiting to explode; and explode it now has but to what affect?
Another nail in the coffin for funeral plans or a new horizon?
So is this latest report another nail in the coffin for prepaid funeral plans or could it, in all its grisly detail be the turning point needed to look to a brighter future?
Well as much as it makes painful reading and I feel for those customers who have suffered at the hands of the Avalon Call Centre in question, I do believe good will come of it.
The industry has been crying out for greater regulation as documented in the recent Fairer Finance Report ‘Is the prepaid funeral planning market working well for customers’.
In addition to highlighting areas where funeral plan providers need to be more transparent, it also calls to question the use of call centres, especially those that suggest they work with a number of funeral plan providers when in fact they only offer one plan.
At this stage I must point out that Over50choices I am pleased to say came out favourably in the report as although we only recommend Dignity funeral plans, we make it very clear that this is the case and why we have chosen this route.
So this shocking investigation into bad funeral plan sales practice will only help support the recommendations given in the Fairer Finance Report, hopefully leading to much tighter controls being introduced. This may still take time to come into force but if nothing else what has happened to Avalon will be a warning shot across the bows to those other less scrupulous funeral plan providers.
How to choose your funeral plan wisely
As mentioned, buying a funeral plan is an important decision, so here are some pointers to help you choose wisely:
- Understand what funeral services are guaranteed in your prepaid funeral plan.
- Clarify whether third party cremation fees are guaranteed, or whether there is an allowance to help pay for them. The latter means that there could be more for your family to pay when the time comes so it is important to know.
- Don’t commit over the phone without reading the information first. A reputable company will be happy to send you a brochure on your chosen prepaid funeral plan before you commit. If they are not willing to do so – walk away.
- Only choose a funeral plan provider that is registered and regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority so you can be sure they have and continue to demonstrate that they comply with their rules and strict code of practice as to how your money is handled and the service you receive.
For more information on choosing the best funeral plan, take a look at our Essential Guide.
There’s no denying that the daily mail article makes uncomfortable reading to say the least, however I am pleased that this form of appalling sales practice when it comes to prepaid funeral plans has come to light and will hopefully act as a turning point in the regulation of prepaid funeral plans going forward.