We’ve achieved an incredible amount during the first half of this year, in what’s continued to be a challenging environment. To do this and still maintain such an outstanding client satisfaction score is truly remarkable. None of this would be possible without the dedication, passion and determination of our colleagues in our funeral branches, care centres and support centre. I’m so proud of you all and the incredible care and support you give to our clients at a time when they need it so much.

At the start of the year we were still operating under Government restrictions as the UK experienced a further Covid peak. Whilst the death rate was high initially, thankfully, deaths soon began to fall to below average numbers - due to the effectiveness of lockdown measures and the vaccine programme. Overall the UK saw a decrease in the number of deaths for the first half of 2021 and our funeral business also saw a decrease in the number of funerals arranged.

With Government restrictions starting to lift over quarter two, we’ve seen many clients return to choosing full service, personalised funerals to celebrate the life of a loved one. We’ve been able to offer clients more ways to make their tribute personal and unique with our expanded range of products and services. Our literature and online information has also been refreshed to help guide clients through the choices available and be more transparent on price. Our direct cremation funeral has continued to be an important option for people wanting a more simple service, with 8% of clients still making this choice.

Our funeral planning business remained very strong and we’ve seen more people put plans in place for the future as the pandemic has slowed. We were delighted to introduce the direct cremation funeral plan to our range in partnership with Memoria - providing our clients with even more choice. We also partnered with the Post Office, offering their customers our Funeral Benefit Option.

I’m truly proud that this year marks ten years of carbon neutrality for Funeralcare. We only use wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in our coffins and have a very popular set of natural and eco funeral options for our clients. We believe it’s important that we continue to play our part in being fairer for our planet, so we’ve committed to install electric vehicle charging points as standard across new and refitted care centres from this year.

The funeral sector has been changed by the pandemic and, as market leaders, we continue to evolve our business to ensure we’re fit for the future. We’ve continued to invest in reducing our prices, as well as making our funeral options more relevant to the communities we support. We’ve made more of our services available online, including a funeral planning tool, live chat and the ability to pay for a final invoice online, as we continue to see more clients preferring to interact with us digitally. We also invested in our field team’s technology, providing colleagues with new tablets and mobile phones as well as introducing “My Time” throughout our operation to help us manage payroll more efficiently.

We will see more change across the funeral market as the sector becomes regulated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for at need services, and by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for funeral plans. We’ve worked collaboratively with the CMA as they developed the rules that need to be in place by law, and they will raise standards across the entire sector on behalf of the bereaved and the deceased. We’ve already begun putting these changes in place and will ensure we’ve met all requirements by September. As the leading provider of funeral plans in the UK, we’re confident that regulation by the FCA will also help to raise standards across the sector and provide all clients peace of mind when planning for their future. The sale of all funeral plans will be regulated by the FCA from July 2022. It’s really important for our clients, members and communities that we’re ready for when this happens, so we’re working closely with the FCA and have strong plans in place to get us there.

Importantly - we want to create an incredible and inclusive place to work and many of you have supported us with our Cultural Diagnostic review. The findings will be shared with me and my team in October and I’m looking forward to understanding the opportunities we have to make real progress here as a team. Thank you if you have contributed - I know the feedback has been incredibly rich and honest.

Looking ahead to the coming months as our sector and our business continues to evolve, I’m confident that by keeping our focus on our client’s needs, offering incredible choice and delivering consistently high standards of service and care, we’ll be in a strong position for the future.

You have my continued respect and admiration for the incredible things you do every day for our clients and for our business.

Sam

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