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UPDATE 2-UK watchdog gives funeral operators three months to standardise prices

* CMA requires all funeral directors to list prices from Sept.

* Prices must be displayed at premises and website

* CMA bans referral incentive payments to hospitals, care homes (Adds detail, background)

June 16 (Reuters) - Funeral directors and crematorium operators in Britain have until September to show a standardised list of prices, from overall costs to a break-down of the products and services they offer or risk legal action, Britain’s competition watchdog said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Wednesday ordered that from Sept. 16, all funeral directors must show the price list at their premises and on their websites.

It has also banned from Thursday funeral directors from paying hospitals, care homes and other institutions for customer referrals and from soliciting business through coroner and police contracts. (bit.ly/3zxANDd)

An investigation focusing on funeral directors and crematoria services was launched in 2019 after a market study in 2018 revealed high prices were charged to distressed families who relied on directors to help them navigate options.

The probe found, among other things, that prices for similar services differed “considerably” between funeral directors and the way information was provided, making it difficult for grieving families to compare prices and choose.

However in August last year, the CMA said it could not implement price controls because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused almost 128,000 deaths in Britain, the seventh highest globally.

There are over 7,000 funeral companies in the United Kingdom from small family firms to large corporations such as Dignity and Co-op Funeralcare.

“We urge funeral directors and crematorium operators to start making these changes now,” CMA Panel Inquiry Chair Martin Coleman said.

“We will be keeping a close eye on the sector and stand ready to take action if firms don’t follow the rules.”

The standardised list must include the overall price of a funeral, the price of the individual items comprising the funeral, such as the type of ceremony and coffins, and certain additional products and services such as flowers, the CMA said.

Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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