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People advised not to buy funeral plans from Empathy or Unique

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The city watchdog is advising customers not to take out a funeral plan from Empathy or Unique amid authorisation concerns.

Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said people should avoid buying new plans from funeral providers that have not applied for authorisation or had their application withdrawn or refused.

The funeral plan market is currently unregulated but from 29 July 2022, firms selling funeral plans will need to be regulated by the FCA.

Ahead of this date, providers are obliged not to sell products or services they know cannot be delivered, which includes when they know they won’t become authorised. As such, anyone considering a funeral plan should only use a provider which has applied for FCA authorisation.

Funeral plans aren’t currently protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) either.

Empathy and Unique funeral plans

Against this backdrop, the FCA is “strongly advising” customers not to buy a plan from Empathy Funeral Plans UK Ltd or Fox Milton & Co Ltd, trading as Unique Funeral Plans.

Last month, Empathy withdrew its application for authorisation to sell and carry out funeral plans. Since then, the FCA said it has not updated its website to inform customers of this.

The FCA, noted: “We have asked Empathy not to sell any further plans and to inform customers of its withdrawn status as it will not be able to sell funeral plans after 28 July 2022. It has not updated its website and we do not know whether it has contacted customers.”

Meanwhile, the FCA said Unique Funeral Plans has not applied for authorisation. “It will therefore not be able to sell and carry out funeral plans after 28 July. It has not responded to our requests for details of its plans for existing customers”, it stated.

Further, the FCA has called into question its statement about how customer money is protected.

As of 24 May 2022, Unique’s terms and conditions stated that “any payment you make to Unique Funeral Plans is held in the secure Unique Funeral Plans Trust which is independently managed by The Sterling Trust Corporation Ltd”.

However, Sterling Trust Corporation Limited has published the following statement on its website: “Sterling Trust Corporation Limited has not been appointed by Unique Funeral Plans (or any company affiliated with Unique) to act as a Trustee and as such these statements are not true.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Sterling Trust Corporation Limited has never received any customer funds from Unique Funeral Plans and does not manage money on behalf of Unique Funeral Plans.

“Unique Funeral Plans have been requested to remove these incorrect and misleading statements from their website.” approached Empathy and Unique for comment.

Unique told us that it is submitting an application shortly and is replying to the FCA request. It added: “We have different Trust facilities away from The Sterling Trust which the FCA will be made aware of. We have instructed our web designer to have the information regarding Sterling Trust removed at the earliest opportunity.”

Empathy had not responded to our request at the time of publication.

Earlier this year, Safe Hands withdrew its application to the FCA, prompting the regulator to warn customers not to buy a plan from the company.

A month later in March, Safe Hands ceased trading, with administrators stating the firm can’t honour any funerals for its 46,000 plan holders.

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