The bosses of stock market listed funeral director Dignity could have been forgiven for saying some undignified things this morning.
Its biggest rival, the Co-operative, has decided to escalate the ‘funeral price war’.
Co-op says it plans to lop £100 off the price of its cheapest plan and throw in further discounts for its members (it isn’t hard to become one). There’s also a promise to beat anyone else’s ‘best price’.
These sort of announcements usually need to be treated with a degree of caution, regardless of the identity of the business making them.
But the reaction of Dignity’s shares, which recorded a fall of more than 6 per cent after the market opened, spoke to the significance of this one.
If it truly means the bell is tolling on easy profits in the funeral market it represents welcome news for everyone but Dignity’s investors and the Co-op’s other rivals.
Every year the insurer Sun Life produces a report on funeral costs, which have been increasing at a disturbingly rapid pace.
Notwithstanding any price war, the latest shows that they recorded an inflation busting 4.7 per cent increase in the year to May.
The average for just a basic funeral, without much in the way of frills, is now £4,271. It has more than doubled in the wake of 15 consecutive increases.
We often talk about the cost of living, but the cost of dying in modern Britain is just as ruinous. In addition to the funeral, professional fees and the cost of a send off bring the total to an eye watering £9,204.
Of course, Sun Life sells funeral insurance plans (if you’ve got cable TV you’ll probably have seen the ads) so it has an interest in highlighting this.
But that doesn’t undermine the validity of its research. And in a nation where 15m people or more people are just about managing, or simply not managing, a sum like that is going to cause grief beyond the departure of a loved one.
The last thing people suffering a bereavement need is to get their pockets picked of what little they have.
Concern about this happening prompted the Competition & Markets Authority to launch an investigation into the sector in June. It also encompasses the rising cost of crematorium fees and a provisional report is expected by the end of the year.
Whether that has played a role in Co-op’s move is less relevant than the fact that the latter seems minded to disrupt a market that is in sore need of it.
But the findings will make for interesting reading all the same.