Assistance & Repatriation Review | April 2019
Sam Tester, Operations Manager at Homeland International, ponders how Brexit could impact the funeral and repatriation sector
There is so much uncertainty regarding Brexit, and we must ensure that we are ready to face whatever outcome prevails. In the absence of an established consensus in the UK Parliament at the time of writing, we are under the assumption that on 22 May 2019, the UK will be withdrawing its membership from the European Union. It is impossible at this stage to predict the likely impact that this will have, as it will depend on the outcome of the UK Government’s response and approach going forward.
Known knowns and known unknowns
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, we believe that the UK funeral and repatriation sector could face certain challenges in the immediate period following the withdrawal, specifically in three areas, which may affect mortal remains repatriation (RMR) services to and from the UK. These are as follows:
We can feasibly expect to see an increase in the processing time between the date of death and the repatriation date. One reason for this is due to there likely being increased pressure on healthcare providers as well as the authorities in the UK. The necessary paperwork may take longer to collate, and if coroners’ investigations are required, this will extend the time for repatriation further than usual.
“ We can feasibly expect to see an increase in the processing time between the date of death and the repatriation date ”
Another problem may be a temporary rise in flight costs, as there is likely to be an increase in fuel charges and limited availability through organisations opting to send freight in bulk. This could delay timings for repatriations as flights may need to be booked at later dates. Queues and processing times at airports could also cause issues for repatriation timescales.
Thirdly, there is likely to be more complex repatriation paperwork/clearance processes. There may be a requirement for additional documentation to allow repatriation to and from different jurisdictions (potentially including EU member states). The destination country is likely to require further documentation too for its own import procedures. This could complicate repatriation cases temporarily, as people try to learn, adopt or implement any new procedures.
As an organisation, we have put in place contingency plans to ensure that we are able to mitigate the effects of an increased timeline and are working with our provider network to ensure their awareness of potential issues, as we’re sure all other similar companies are. We will, of course, continue to monitor developments carefully, as the situation continues to evolve.
Please note that this is applicable only in the case of repatriations to or from the UK. For the assistance sector as a whole, we would expect the biggest problems may be financial – especially for those with fluctuating currencies; as well as those relating to paperwork and legal complications. Organisations may opt to move holdings to countries within the EU; we have seen this already in the UK with firms moving to Ireland to operate, for example. On the other hand, if the business environment does not become too demanding in the UK, firms are likely to stay in London due to their locational advantages and close proximity to many underwriters.
“ Strengthening and retaining key relationships with stakeholders in the EU is something that every organisation must start doing in order to be prepared ”
Strengthening and retaining key relationships with stakeholders in the EU is something that every organisation must start doing in order to be prepared following March 2019. The better a relationship is, the easier it is to overcome challenges together. With every good relationship comes great trust – if you can build trust with your stakeholders, you have an opportunity to fix things quickly. There may be changes to your processes in the short term following Brexit, which may be difficult and could hinder your operational standards temporarily. If you have trusting stakeholders they will understand this is only a short-term issue. If you have no relationships or trust with these stakeholders, they may cut ties with you and your organisation. They may have less of an understanding of the issues you are facing and may not believe you will be able to adjust.
Agility is key
To be responsive and adaptive to change is a fundamental part of delivering consistent, high-quality services to customers. This goes without saying for every business regarding the way they should operate on a daily basis. With Brexit and the businesses it may affect, it is even more important to be responsive to change. Accepting the alterations and dealing with them is highly important if you want to be consistent in quality; if you fail to adapt to these changes quickly then it could be difficult to retain customers and to preserve your operational quality as an organisation. Much of the aftermath to date has been something of a guessing game, but as more information comes to light, it is crucial to act upon it. A good place to start is by implementing contingency plans, which are an excellent way to prepare for adapting quickly.
Much of this focuses on UK business but, of course, in this international sector there are organisations within the EU that rely heavily on UK business. Our advice on this point from the experience of some of our own providers in the EU is to communicate now. Start the conversation with UK stakeholders and work together on planning for business post-Brexit. It is likely that the changes will in some way affect the way you operate, so a solution will be needed when the time comes. It is easy to think that Brexit will not affect your business model, but it can be damaging if you have no plans in place for all that could occur following Brexit. It is worth setting aside time to pre-plan for as many of the eventualities as you can – after all, calculating and managing risk is what many of you do every day! ■