Hospices warned off scheme to offer funeral services

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HOSPICES have been alerted to the “catastrophic” damage to their reputation should they join a new scheme to launch their own funeral services.

St Margaret’s Hospice in Taunton, Somerset, has entered into partnership with the funeral-service provider Memoria Ltd to set up a new venture, Hospice Funerals, it was announced last week (News, 1 December). Memoria, which owns and operates crematoria across the country, is run by Howard Hodgson, an undertaker and the author of How to Become Dead Rich, about how his business prospered during the Thatcher years.

His new venture, Hospice Funerals, has a joining fee of £10,000. The first funeral home will be opened at St Margaret’s in January, and will offer low-cost funerals to people who have been patients of hospices, as well as those who have not. The chief executive of St Margaret’s, Ann Lee, said last week that the service was a “natural extension” of its current care.

But the chief executive of the Good Funeral Guide, Fran Hall, has since written to the chairs of all 191 hospices in the UK, warning them not to become a partner of Hospice Funerals because the model does not “fall into the category of an ethical, community focused service, despite the marketing hype”.

She said on Wednesday: “We are all aware of the need for hospices to continually raise funds to sustain their work caring for dying people and their families, and we can see that, for many people, the idea of a hospice offering an undertaking service would seem to be a very good way of doing this.

“Our concerns are that this franchise model . . . carries significant risk to hospices tempted to participate, and we felt it important that we brought our concerns to the attention of trustee boards of hospices around the UK.”

In her letter, sent last Friday, she writes that the model provided by Hospice Funerals is “wholly unproven”, and the sales figures are “misleadingly” optimistic.

“It is a franchise operation, which is intended to utilise ‘brand recognition’ of the hospice name to leverage advantage over existing providers of undertaking services in the franchise catchment area (defined by Hospice Funerals) and by ‘disrupting the market’, in the process conveniently increasing the numbers of cremations carried out by the crematoria owned by Memoria Ltd.”

It would also put pressure on families to “give back” to the hospice by choosing its funeral scheme rather than through donations, she writes.

“Reputational damage to individual hospices signing up to this opportunity could potentially be catastrophic. Legacy donations and in memoriam fundraising could be seriously impacted if families elect to use a hospice funeral home, as they could consider they have done their ‘giving back’ to the hospice through their payment of the fees involved with the funeral.”

Ms Lee has defended the partnership, saying that it had been approved by the Charity Commission and the Care Quality Commission. “We did a lot of independent market research, and 82 per cent of people we interviewed thought it was the right thing to do,” she told The Guardian on Wednesday. “What Howard and his team are doing is a very generous offer to the hospice movement.”

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