Age UK condemned for promoting expensive funerals to the elderly

The charity-branded funeral plans are provided by Advance Planning, a subsidiary of Dignity, a FTSE 250 company

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The Independent Online

Age UK has been criticised by campaigners for accepting millions of pounds to promote a particular funeral firm - which allegedly charges significantly more than some rivals.

The charity-branded funeral plans are provided by Advance Planning, a subsidiary of Dignity, a FTSE 250 company. 

Last year 18,000 of the funeral plans were sold – with Age UK Enterprises receiving £9.4m in return. Dignity makes revenues of more than £30m a year from the funerals.

The Age UK funeral packages are among the most expensive on the market, with several other firms offering funeral plans for hundreds of pounds less.  

The charity’s basic funeral plan costs £3,495 - more than £200 more expensive than the Co-operative Funeralcare’s basic package. 

The price for Age UK’s ‘standard’ funeral is £3,845 – which is more than £300 more expensive than an equivalent plan offered by Golden Charter, according to an analysis by Which? in December 2015. 

Rosie Inman-Cook, manager of the Natural Death Centre, a charity which advises people on how to arrange their own funerals, said Age UK should do more to tell people that cheaper options were available. “They could be getting far better value for money elsewhere and spend around a thousand pounds,” she said. 

One funeral industry source described the costs of the Age UK funeral plans as “disproportionately high,” and added: “I do believe that as a charity they should be looking for a more proportionately priced product.”

Age Concern, which merged with Help the Aged to become Age UK in 2009, previously held a minority shareholding in Advance Planning.

Last night Dignity stood by its funeral products. A spokesman said: “The Age UK Funeral Plan has some of the strongest guarantees in the market with unrivalled service and transparent customer terms.  We believe the combination of price and quality makes the Age UK Funeral Plan the best value on the market.”

An Age UK spokesman said: “Not all funeral plans are the same so it’s best not to compare on price alone. The Age UK Funeral Plans have almost unique levels of cover including guaranteeing cremation costs - and ensure there are no hidden costs, to provide great value. 

Age UK's website, offering pre-paid funeral plans

“On a like for like basis, against properly comprehensive products, Age UK Funeral Plans are in fact very competitively priced.” 

Age UK is facing increasing scrutiny over its exclusive partnerships with a number of businesses. A controversial energy tariff marketed to the elderly under the charity’s name was suspended yesterday, just days after it emerged that the deal, through E.ON, had been more expensive than the energy supplier’s cheapest rate. 

E.ON  said: “Due to continued speculation regarding the partnership, both organisations feel it is right to pause and reflect on the best way for both parties to achieve their shared goal of helping customers.” 

Last week the Independent revealed that Age UK made around £40m in 2014-15 from agreements with a number of companies it promotes to pensioners, ranging from bed manufacturers to mobile phone firms.

Barrie Duke, vice-chair of Age Concern Okehampton and Torridge, one of a number of local groups which have chosen to remain independent of Age UK, told The Independent: “Age UK is a brand, and to me it’s far more a commercial brand than a charity brand.” 

Gary Fitzgerald from the charity Action on Elder Abuse, said: “There is nothing inherently wrong with a charity and a commercial company working in partnership for their mutual benefit. But this is very different from two businesses doing the same thing because the company is trading on the charity’s reputation and both parties know it. The public will always see the charity and nothing else, and that means there is an expectation of trust that needs to be recognised and protected.”

Advance Planning

Advance Planning, a subsidiary of Dignity plc, provides the funeral packages which are promoted by Age UK. According to its latest annual accounts, Dignity was paid around £35m as a result of the partnership with the charity. Up until 2009, Age Concern, one of the two charities who merged and became Age UK, had a 25 per cent shareholding in Advance Planning.

Gordon Morris, managing director of Age UK Enterprises, was briefly on the board when the charity decided to sell its shareholding. Mr Morris and another director representing Age Concern Enterprises stood down from the board after this happened. “Our contract with Dignity will come up for renewal in April 2019 at which point a full re-tender process will be carried out,” said a spokesperson for Age UK.