CITIZENS Advice has welcomed an announcement from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that it has decided to launch a major probe into the costs of funerals.
In its initial review, the CMA found that the price of a funeral has increased in the last 10 years by more than two thirds, with the normal cost now being between £3,000 and £5,000 which for those on the lowest incomes amounts to nearly 40 per cent of their annual outgoings and is more than their combined spending on food, clothing and energy.
It also concluded that these price hikes do not appear to be justified either by rising costs or quality improvements.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “People organising a funeral are being exploited at one of the most emotional and stressful times in their lives. Huge upfront costs and unclear fees are far too common, with thousands of pounds of ‘extras’ regularly added to bills.
“We help thousands of people each year who struggle to work out over-complicated fees or who simply cannot afford the cost. It’s encouraging to see the CMA taking action in markets where it sees evidence of consumers being ripped off on a massive scale.”
Local offices of Citizens Advice are expecting to be particularly busy over the next few weeks. Many people are continuing to seek help with difficulties they are facing with Universal Credit, the new benefits system that has recently been introduced, and after Christmas there is normally a significant increase in the numbers asking for assistance in sorting out their financial problems.
Rovarn Wickremasinghe, manager of Bridport and District Citizens Advice, commented: “In the second half of January we normally experience growing demand for debt advice.
“Christmas, in particular, can take a heavy toll on people already struggling with money problems. But it is important that if you are in this situation you take action to prevent this becoming a crisis. Problems can be taken care of much more easily if you seek advice early.
“This is a good time to get on top of your debts, cut your costs and work out a plan to budget better in the future. Our advisers can help review your situation so you can make decisions to improve your financial security.”
Help can be offered with a wide variety of debt concerns with the most common problem being where people have fallen behind with their council tax payments.
Citizens Advice wants all councils to commit to fair and effective debt collection of council tax along the lines of the policy/protocol operated by West Dorset District Council for assisting vulnerable people.
It says that budget constraints mean councils face significant pressure to collect all the money owed but that collection processes can be improved, with costs reduced, where local authorities and advice agencies, such as Citizens Advice, work closely together.
Anyone is welcome to visit Citizens Advice even if they do not have an appointment, and the advice that will be provided will always be free, confidential and impartial.
In Lyme Regis two advice sessions are held each week, on Mondays between 10am and 12noon at the medical centre in Uplyme Road, DT7 3LS, and on Wednesdays from 10am to 3pm at the St Michael’s Business Centre, DT7 3DB, in the centre of the town.
In addition people can visit the offices in South Street, Bridport, DT6 3NY every weekday between 10am and 3pm.
You can also contact with Citizens Advice by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 03442 451291, which will get you through to the Dorset AdviceLine.