Jackie Quinn thought she was doing the right thing after her husband Paul passed away and she invested in a £2,610 funeral bond with Southern Co-operative Funeral Services.
But Jackie has been battling with them for almost six months with a grave problem.
The lettering on the nine-year-old memorial stone has worn away and the firm has refused to help repair it – claiming it was only guaranteed for a year.
Jackie says she decided to turn to the Co-op for her funeral care arrangements because she was impressed by its mission statement.
It boldly claims to have a purpose beyond profit, and values and principles to support sustainable business practice.
The retired 64-year-old from Waterlooville explained Paul was an orderly sort of guy who, knowing he had little time left to live, made a financial provision for both their funerals.
‘My husband knew he was going to die,’ Jackie said, ‘so he tweaked his financial arrangements to make it as easy as possible for me.
‘While I was there paying for his funeral, I used the funds to pay for my own, including a double plot, and a stone.
‘Although the stone is only a small area, the wording was only on half of it so that when the time comes mine will be added to the bottom.’
Jackie said all she wanted from the firm was a straight answer to a familiar consumer question: How long should the stone memorial last?
If it didn’t last in legible form during her lifetime, then surely it wasn’t fit for purpose.
But despite her best efforts, she just couldn’t get a straight answer.
Jackie added: ‘I first went into the branch last October to complain. I was told to write an email with a photo, which I did, and a couple of photos either side for comparison.
‘Because they didn’t have a copy of the paperwork, I sent a copy of the order and asked for an assessment of its condition after such a short time in relation to its intended lifetime.
‘They sent back a report and a list of recommendations which were repainting it at £189 plus VAT, or to remove, clean, cut and lead at £402.30.
‘I phoned them because it didn’t answer my question. They said painting was the cheap option but cut and lead would last a lot longer but still wasn’t guaranteed.
‘I sent them another letter to say I wasn’t given an option, so they then spoke to their expert who said the cutting was quite good but the paint they still use is only guaranteed for a year.
‘In a way they answered their own question because the paint wasn’t fit for purpose. They said they were happy to do the work but they wouldn’t pay for it.
‘My response was that, if the work needed doing, it was mis-sold in the first place and they should pay to put it right, but they weren’t having any of that.’
Jackie was so annoyed and upset she decided to get in touch with Streetwise.
We considered her complaint in the light of the quality and fitness for purpose requirements of the 1969 Sale of Goods Act, which was in force at the time she took out the bond.
We got in touch with Southern Co-operative Funeral Services and put it to them that, to comply with the law, an engraved memorial stone was required to be an enduring memorial to those who had passed away and their loved ones.
A product guarantee couldn’t extinguish the requirement for it to be fit for this purpose and sufficiently durable during Jackie’s lifetime.
A spokesperson for Southern Co-op Funeral Operations said: ‘We understand that the headstone has been in place for nine years and the painted lettering guarantee was valid for one year. We also understand that the stone has not been professionally cleaned since it was placed.’
Streetwise took the view that the statement was somewhat evasive and didn’t answer the fundamental question as to how long they expected the stone to reasonably last.
If it was a maintenance issue, we couldn’t see why wasn’t it explicitly brought to Jackie’s attention at the time she took out the bond.
For an expert view we turned to Eric Bignall, editor of the Natural Stone Specialist magazine, who said there was an ongoing maintenance issue with the legibility of the wording on stone memorials.
He said this was because the paint usually only lasts about a decade on standing memorials, but those lying flat are likely to suffer more severe conditions, with standing water.
Jackie’s stone would probably have lasted longer if it were gilded with gold leaf, but there were cost concerns.
We attempted to clarify the situation and elicit a more sympathetic response from Southern Co-operative.
We were hopeful that in the light of the company’s mission statement a little common sense might prevail.
Now we had an answer to the basic question and, putting the legal issues aside, perhaps an offer to meet her halfway with the cost of repainting the lettering might at least go some way to bring the matter to an amicable conclusion.
We contacted company secretary Silena Dominy, but were given short shrift.
She told us they were standing firmly behind their initial statement and denied the funeral service had any lability.
They were not prepared to offer any explanation or a resolution.
‘We have responded to Mrs Quinn’s enquiries to us, however do not agree that the issue relates to the quality of the product,’ she said.
We felt the firm’s position was surprising and disappointing and Jackie agreed.
‘The very reason I went with them originally,’ she said, ‘was because the Co-op is a people’s company.
‘I really am very disappointed with the way they’ve treated me.’