Yet again, a whole segment of a specialised financial industry is allowed to function, from the beginning, without any oversight or Government regulation until a bunch of cowboys virtually does a runner with the cash entrusted to them, and in doing so, a great many elderly people losing a great deal of money.
As some of you may know my wife died just over a year ago. It was a time of great grief for me, as I tried to assimilate my loss, and keep living at the same time. One task which I took on was to organise my wife Jacqueline’s cremation, as this was something which had to be personally undertaken.
Over the years, I had noted various funeral and cremation plans being marketed, but never really felt urged to do anything about informing myself as to the ins, outs and wherefores of these plans. As I discovered, when first having to research through the field, there is some pretty expensive offerings in the funeral and cremation planning. If one looks ahead, as one approaches the ‘golden years’ of life after retirement: after deciding where to live if you are ‘downsizing’, the expense of a funeral ranks pretty high in the queue of financial decisions you have to make, especially when your hair commences losing it’s colour and shows ever more skeins of grey.
As I had made no plans for either myself or my wife, I had to start from scratch. As I do not hold these days with any established religion, and loath the ‘showy’ ideal of a funeral and burial service, peopled with relatives who never bothered to come near us when we both still lived, and as I believe that when you die, that’s it; I decided on a cremation service run by a reputable private company. Once I had made that decision, every small detail was carefully lifted from my shoulders, and the only decisions left for me to make was a choice of favourite music to be played when entering the Crematorium meeting place, and when the coffin is slowly curtained off before the mourning family leave that sad but strangely welcoming place.
But the decision remained for me to decide if I wished a prepaid plan for myself, or to leave it to my family to choose the company which will carry out my cremation. Such thinking drove many thousands of people to view the carefully-choreographed video productions produced by a company with the carefully-chosen and seemingly comforting name of Safe Hands. The company also advertised it’s services on the pages of Financial Times, the Times, and many other reputable newspapers and television stations.
Safe Hands Funeral Plans guarantee that no matter how long their plan-holders live, or however expensive a funeral is when they pass away, there will never be anything further for those left behind to pay towards the funeral director’s fees and services. In their marketing pamphlet, they talk about their Trust Fund, saying “the money you pay towards your Safe Hands Funeral Plan is held in a secure Trust Fund (via Pitmans Trustees Limited). Set up in conjunction with specialist Trust Solicitors, the fund is independently managed by multinational investment management firm, UBS’. And when they talk about funds, they are talking about big money, but those interested enough were supposed to be reassured by the presence of Mazars LLP, a top ten UK audit and accounting firm and one of Europe’s largest, appointed to do so by the Trustees, Pitmans Trustees Limited.
We now see that the funds are in deep trouble. One, TJM Partnership, went into liquidation earlier this year, the other is based in Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. FRP, the appointed liquidators, are reporting that there is around £3.8 millions secured in the UK, with the bulk of trust assets – more than £60million – are in ‘illiquid, high-risk investments’, many based in offshore jurisdictions. FRP reckons that most of the depositors’ cash has disappeared.
Safe Hands stated, in their brochure “Because the Trust Fund is entirely independent of the company, in the highly unlikely event that Safe Hands should go into liquidation or cease trading for any reason, because the Trust Fund is not an asset of the company (and because our planholders are the primary beneficiaries of The Trust Fund) your investment would be secure, and would remain ring-fenced specifically for the purpose of providing the funeral you have bought and paid for.”
Time and time again, ordinary people have been fleeced of most if not all of their cash, because once the cash, or cheques, are handed over, there is no-one to look after or defend the ‘little guy’.The Financial Conduct Authority is supposed to have begun overlook of these plans and companies, of which there are many. I was visited myself by one such outfit, who even went as far as ‘recording’ the sales pitch, so he could supposedly be heard as promising nothing untoward, but when it came to the chosen plan, and for me to sign up and arrange to buy a ‘plan’, I baulked at the speed at which things were moving. So this bloke called his boss, and they went into high gear, pushing me to invest what, to me, is a fairly substantial amount of cash, even with a ‘reduced’ deposit, which was thought enough to make the sale. As I can still remember when the vultures were selling kitchens, as well as double-glazed windows, all on the same high pressure ‘get the signature’ ideal, and then you wait, and wait, for your purchase, I decided to just defer the whole thing.
And when researching that same company, whom I will not name, I found the same old pressure selling tactics as the failed firm.
MY advice, if you have the savings, keep them close, and tell your family to buy a simple burial or cremation service, and pay for it then and there. No investments, no platinum packages, your money is never at risk: simples!