Supporter In Focus: Dignity

In a series of Supporters in Focus pieces, we are thrilled to introduce our supporters of The British Wills & Probate Awards 2020.

This year the awards will recognise a sector which has tackled the challenges presented by Covid-19 head on. Alongside headline sponsor Arken.Legal, we look forward to recognising achievement, highlighting progression and championing innovation.

This week, we profile Will Writing Firm of the Year sponsors, Dignity Funeral Plans.

We’re delighted to have Dignity on board with the third year of The British Wills & Probate Awards. First of all, tell us who you are and what you do

Dignity is a nationwide provider of funeral services across the UK, with over 800 funeral director branches and 46 crematoria nationwide. We are also a leading quality provider of funeral plans, putting flexibility and choice at the heart of the services we offer our clients.

Dignity launched the UK’s first funeral plan in 1985, and has continued to grow – providing a high-quality service for people that choose to take out one of our plans. We are the first company in the UK to be awarded the BSI Kitemark for Customer Service for our funeral planning division. We also have some of the best rated funeral plan products, as rated by consumer group Fairer Finance, and our Diamond funeral plan was recently awarded a five star Defaqto rating.

84% per cent of families chose Dignity because of reputation, recommendation, previous experience or through use of Dignity Funeral Plans. And we are very proud to say 99 per cent of respondents to Dignity’s client survey say that the company met or exceeded their expectations.

We are members of the Funeral Planning Authority – the existing voluntary regulatory body overseeing the funeral plans market, and have have continued to work closely with the FPA and Government to raise standards for consumers.

What have Dignity been doing over the past 9 months since The British Wills & Probate Awards 2019?

Dignity is proud to have campaigned for higher standards in the funeral plans market, and have engaged with Government over the past few years to bring forward the anticipated FCA regulation of the funeral plans market.

With consumer protection in mind, we also partnered with Resolver, a well-known consumer complaints service, to launch a funeral plans complaints guide on their platform in May last year. It provides consumers with the information they need to make more informed decisions when it comes to funeral plans. And importantly, where to get help if things aren’t right.

We’ve also continued to improve the online guidance and advice for bereaved families, ensuring people understand the different options available to them so they can make an informed choice for their funeral plan, or at the point of need of a funeral itself.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, what do you think is the biggest challenge the sector has faced over the last 12 months?

Funeral plans are a great way for people to save money to cover the costs of their funeral so that it does not fall on their loved ones when they have passed away. However a key challenge and concern for us is that some firms have been taking advantage of regulation gaps and using bad practices to mis-sell products.

Dignity and more reputable funeral plan providers are already registered with the sector’s self-regulatory body – the Funeral Planning Authority. However, our research has shown that there are some more unscrupulous (non-registered) firms operating in the market, we wanted to do more to protect consumers from poor practice, such as misleading and pushy sales tactics.

We have been campaigning for regulation of the funeral plans sector for some time and continue to raise the issue of bad practice among a small number of providers.

Fast forward to June 2020, every sector has experienced the challenges Covid-19 has brought about, and the funeral planning sector is no stranger to this. However, throughout the pandemic we have continued to provide a high quality service to our funeral plan clients and new customers – and continued to engage with Government ensure the momentum for FCA regulation of funeral plans is delivered. In fact, it was only in April this year that Government confirmed this is now set for the end of this year.

And what innovations were you seeing in the market?

The way people choose to say goodbye is changing. More options are available for people when choosing a funeral plan, or when making arrangements for their loved one.

At Dignity, we have continued to strive to provide flexibility and choice, which continues to manifest in the products we provide. For example, we were the first company to launch a national direct cremation service in the UK, through our brand Simplicity Cremations.

In October 2019 we launched the Dignity Promise. If a customer chooses to pay for their funeral plan over a period greater than 12 months, and pass away before they have finished paying for their plan, Dignity will cover the outstanding balance. Dignity is one of only two funeral plan providers to offer this kind of customer assurance.

More recently, in February 2020, working with one of its affinity partners, Dignity launched a more tailor-made funeral plan. From a base plan, customers build their own customised package by adding up to six limousines, a choice of coffin, an urn and a funeral procession route prior to arrival at the funeral service.

What has the impact of the Coronavirus meant for Dignity?

We recognise that the funeral sector more widely has had an important role to play during the pandemic. We have continued to respond to the Government guidelines as the pandemic developed, with equal importance on supporting bereaved people and caring for the deceased, while protecting our key worker staff.

Whilst families have been able to arrange funerals for their loved ones throughout the pandemic, there have been restrictions in place to meet the government’s public health guidelines, and to keep families and the community safe.

We are pleased to say for Dignity overall, we have been able to provide nearly all services included within our funeral plans. Depending on the circumstances, we’ve sought to provide the family with some sort of recourse in those circumstances where certain services could not be offered due to restrictions. For example, working with the nominated funeral director, there has been the option of holding a small funeral service now, and memorial or celebration of life later, and in some cases financial compensation.

The situation continues to change regularly, and as the government continues to relax the restrictions in place, most services should be available (in line with public health guidelines). This means that families can hold the funeral as close to the wishes of their loved one as possible.

Dignity is a nationwide network of funeral directors and crematoria, which means we have been able to provide extra support in parts of the country that might be more affected by the virus. We continue to work with Government and the wider industry to ensure we can provide respond to the situation and serve communities and bereaved people throughout the pandemic.

What are your predictions for the sector in 2020 and beyond?

Regulation of the funeral plan market is likely to be the biggest shake up the sector, ultimately improving standards and outcomes for consumers. We are likely to see best practice by providers such as ourselves and those registered with the Funeral Planning Authority be adopted by others – reducing the risk of pressurised or misleading sales tactics. We will continue to work with officials, responding to the regulatory and consultation process to ensure that the market provides the best service to funeral plan customers.

More widely, there has been a significant increase in the number of low cost and alternative funeral options available to consumers in recent years as a result of product innovation by the industry.

Our research has found that consumers choose these options for a number of reasons, such as wanting to move away from a traditional funeral, feeling they don’t need certain elements, as well as cost playing a factor for those that can’t afford a traditional service. Whilst awareness of these options has increased significantly in recent years, it is possible that the impact of Covid-19 alters how people think and feel about alternative funeral options.

Thank you to Dignity for their support for The British Wills & Probate Awards 2020.

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